By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
Sports Radio Service Writer
AP file photo: Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) looks for some daylight as he’s pass rushed by the New Orleans Saints Paul Kruger (99) during last Sunday’s game at the Superdome in New Orleans
OAKLAND, Calif — The Raiders opened up the NFL season in dramatic fashion, knocking off the Saints 35-34 in New Orleans last Sunday and have been one of the trendiest sports topics for the week, thanks in large part to the two-point conversion that head coach Jack Del Rio dialed up for quarterback Derek Carr and wide receiver Michael Crabtree.
But the NFL is a week-to-week league and Oakland (1-0) will face another NFC South opponent when they host the Atlanta Falcons (0-1) at Oakland Coliseum Sunday in what should be a sellout for Raider Nation.
Kickoff is at 1:25 p.m. PDT.
Carr finished the game 24 of 38 for 319 yards passing and one touchdown, including the two-point conversion to Crabtree with 52 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Carr’s clutch throw to Crabtree earned Carr the Castrol Edge Clutch Performer of the Week, for Week 1 as announced by the NFL Friday.
“Everyone on this team is so confident in what we can do,” Carr said after practice Wednesday at the team’s training facility in Alameda. “It’s not arrogant, it’s not that we think we’re better than anybody. We respect every team that we play. At the same time, we know the work we’ve put in. We know how to compete.”
Carr drove the Raiders 75 yards in 11 plays, capping off the game-winning drive with a 10-yard touchdown to wide receiver Seth Roberts.
Crabtree finished with seven catches for 87 yards, while his fellow wide receiver Amari Cooper finished with six catches and led the team with 137 yards receiving.
Oakland’s running game was in good hands with starting running back Latavius Murray (14 carries, 59 yards, one touchdown) and rookies DeAndre Washington (five carries and 14 yards), and Jalen Richard (three carries and 84 yards).
Richard’s 75-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was a huge turning point for Oakland in the game.
Oakland’s defense seemed to be heading in the right direction in the first quarter, when newly signed outside linebacker Bruce Irvin sacked Saints quarterback Drew Brees forcing a fumble that was recovered by rookie defensive tackle Jihad Ward inside Saints’ territory.
The Raiders converted that turnover into a Sebastian Janikowski 47-yard field goal, but that was the only pressure that Brees felt all day from an absent pass rush that saw star defensive end Khalil Mack facing countless double-teams and chip blocks from tight ends and running backs.
But the secondary took a beating from Drew Brees and Co., giving up a total of 507 yards of offense. Brees completed 28 of 42 passes for 423 yards and four touchdowns.
High-priced free agent cornerback Sean Smith had a day that he wanted to forget, giving up huge plays in the passing game, most notably the 98-yard touchdown pass that speedy wide receiver Brandin Cooks caught that gave New Orleans a 24-10 lead in the third quarter.
Smith was benched in favor of former first-round draft pick D.J. Hayden after giving up the touchdown to Cooks.
Cooks finished the game with six catches for 143 yards and two touchdowns, but fellow wide receiver Willie Sneed gave Oakland fits also, burning the Raiders for 172 yards on nine catches and one touchdown.
Defensive coordinator Ken Norton and the defense are going to face another high passing attack in the Falcons, led by quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones and Mohammed Sanu. Atlanta’s passing offense can feast on a Raiders’ secondary if they miss assignments.
Atlanta is traveling to the West Coast after dropping their home opener last week to Tampa Bay, 31-24.
Ryan finished 27 of 39 for 334 yards and two touchdowns, while Sanu finished with five catches for 80 yards and a touchdown, and Jones hauled in four catches for 66 yards and a touchdown.
Jones has been dealing with an ankle injury and has been limited in practice for much of the week, but should be ready to go Sunday.
The six-year wide receiver from Alabama finished in 2015 tied with Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown for the league lead in receptions (136) and edged Brown for the league lead in receiving yards (1,871 to Brown’s 1,834) is still one of the premier wide receivers in the league even at less than 100%.
“I’ve played through things,” Jones said earlier in the week via CBS Sports. “It’s nothing that’s going to hold me back from going out there and producing or doing what I do.”
Atlanta’s running game has the potential to have a big day against Oakland, after just rushing for 52 yards Sunday against Tampa Bay, 10 by Ryan.
Starting running back Devonta Freeman (11 carries and 20 yards) and fellow running buddy Tevin Coleman (eight carries and 22 yards) are looking for bounce back games after facing a stingy Buccaneers defense that yielded just three yards per carry to Atlanta.
Atlanta is looking to avoid an 0-2 hole after starting last season 6-1, before derailing to an 8-8 finish and missing the playoffs for the third straight season.
The Falcons defeated Oakland 23-20 in the last meeting between the two teams on Oct. 14, 2012 behind a Matt Bryant 55-yard field goal with one second left in the fourth quarter.
Starting off the season 2-0 for the Raiders would be a confidence booster for a team that hasn’t seen a 2-0 start since 2002, the year the team reached the Super Bowl.
Winning exudes confidence and with Carr, who finished with 3,987 yards passing and 32 touchdowns in 2015 already off to a promising start to 2016, the Raiders may have the makings of a special team.