By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
Sports Radio Service Writer
OAKLAND, Calif — I guess the Raiders love winning games by the closest of margins this season.
In a match up teams going in opposite directions, Oakland prevailed over visiting San Diego, 34-31, Sunday afternoon. Oakland took advantage of four Chargers’ turnovers and a botched field goal attempt on San Diego’s final drive of the game.
All of Oakland’s games this season have been decided by seven points or less, leading to the Raiders (4-1) to a share of the AFC West lead with the Denver Broncos.
Denver (4-1) was knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten, losing at home to the Atlanta Falcons 23-16 Sunday. Atlanta (4-1) also defeated the Raiders 35-28 in Week 2, spoiling Oakland’s home opener.
Checkout each unit’s grade following the Raiders’ first win at the Oakland Coliseum this year:
Quarterback (B+) – Coming into the game Sunday, their was so much talk that Oakland would blowout San Diego, who are a depleted with 14 players on injured reserve but that was not the case.
Oakland missed opportunities in the first half on offense, settling for three Sebastian Janikowski field goals and trailing San Diego, 10-9 at halftime.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr seemed overly-excited in the first half in front of the sold out Raider Nation crowd, throwing only his second interception of the season on a shovel pass intended for rookie running back DeAndre Washington to Chargers defensive tackle Brandon Mebane on Oakland’s first drive of the game.
But Carr rebounded, completing 25-of-40 passes for 317 yards and two touchdowns against a Chargers secondary that were playing without Pro Bowl cornerback Jason Verrett, who was lost for the season with a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
With Oakland trailing 17-9 in the third quarter, Carr threw a beautiful pass to wide receiver Amari Cooper down the Chargers’ sideline for a 64-yard score to pull Oakland closer, 17-16.
Following a Philip Rivers’ 1-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Hunter Henry that pushed San Diego’s lead to 24-16, Carr found wide receiver Michael Crabtree for a 21-yard touchdown on 4th and 2 that trimmed the Chargers’ lead to 24-22 before Carr found Cooper on a quick slant for the two-point conversion that tied the score 24-24.
For the season, Carr has thrown for 1,383 yards, 11 touchdowns, and two interceptions while completing 67-percent of his passes.
”Sometimes you just have to find ways to win and get it done at the end,” Carr said after the game. ”It would be nice if we didn’t have to do all the stress and drama at the end. That would be nice.”
Running Backs (B) –Without starting running back Latavius Murray, the ground game was left in the hands of rookie running backs DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard, and fullback Jamize Olawale.
The trio registered just 23 carries for 89 yards on the ground, with Richard leading the group with only 31 yards on eight carries.
Washington rushed for 23 yards on a team-leading nine carries. Olawale (six carries and tied for a team-high six catches) was the only back to score, a 1-yard plunge in the fourth quarter that gave Oakland a 34-24 lead.
Offensive line (C-) – After not giving up a sack last week in Baltimore and keeping Carr upright, the unit gave up three sacks to San Diego Sunday.
Rookie defensive end Joey Bosa, who was making his NFL debut after missing San Diego’s first four games, found himself getting well acquainted with Carr, sacking Carr twice.
Linebacker Jatavis Brown recorded a sack for San Diego.
Wide Receivers (A) – It took five games, but wide receiver Amari Cooper finally got into the end zone Sunday.
Cooper had his best game of the season, catching six passes for 138 yards, and a touchdown. Cooper blew past Chargers’ strong safety Adrian Phillips down San Diego’s sideline for a 64-yard score.
The Raiders’ second-year wide receiver was targeted a team-high 12 times Sunday, and now leads the team in targets (44), yards (456, pacing fifth in the league among wide receivers), and is second to teammate Michael Crabtree for the team lead in receptions (29 to 26).
Crabtree finished with three catches and 47 yards Sunday, but hauled in his fifth touchdown catch of the year. Crabtree is tied with Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown for the most touchdown catches in the league with five.
In 21 games with Oakland since 2015, Crabtree has recorded at least three catches in all games played and his 13 touchdowns from the start of last season are tied for sixth in the league over that span.
Oakland’s 32nd ranked defense had another tough day, giving up 423 yards of total offense to a Chargers team that was missing star wide receiver Keenan Allen and versatile running back Danny Woodhead. Allen and Woodhead both were lost for the season with torn ACL’s.
Even in the win, Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio wasn’t happy with his defense’s performance, Del Rio called out his defense, saying that they need to “Stop playing Santa Claus. Stop giving out presents.”
Defensive Line (B) – Defensive tackles Stacy McGee (1.5 sacks) and Dan Williams (0.5 sack), were key in stopping Melvin Gordon and the Chargers’ ground game.
McGee forced two of San Diego’s five fumbles on the day.
Oakland’s defensive front limited the former Wisconsin Badger to 16 carries for 69 yards rushing.
Linebackers (A) – Newly signed linebacker Perry Riley, Jr. played great in his debut in Silver & Black, leading the team with seven tackles (six solo).
The former Washington linebacker started next to rookie Corey James for the injured Malcolm Smith. Smith, who did suit up, was active but didn’t play any snaps.
Riley Jr. will get a lot of playing time and could possible remain the starter if Smith’s injury continues to derail his season.
Secondary (C-) – The “gifts” that Raiders head coach might be referring to is the abundance of passing yards the secondary has given up game after game, as evident of the 356 yards and four touchdowns that San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers threw on the rebuilt unit.
Free agent addition Sean Smith intercepted his second pass of the season and rookie Karl Joseph recorded both his first interception and fumble recovery, but Oakland couldn’t stop the Chargers wide receivers.
David Amerson, rated as the best cornerback in the league according to Pro Football Focus, was burned by wide receiver Tyrell Williams for a 29-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter that gave San Diego a 7-3 lead.
Williams and fellow wide receiver Travis Benjamin had 117 receiving yards each, while combining for 12 catches.
Oakland is surrendering 330 yards per game through the air per game, which is dead last and that needs to improve.
Special Teams (A-) – Kicker Sebastian Janikowski accounted for 14 points on 4-of-5 field goals on the day, while punter Marquette King had three punts for an average of 41.3 yards per punt.
The Raiders welcome another bitter division rival, the Kansas City Chiefs (2-2), next Sunday at 1:25 p.m. PT.
Kansas City was on a bye week.