As this season was about to unfold, Raiders coach Hue Jackson spoke with excitement about the big-play potential of his offense with speed packaged in the likes of Darren McFadden, Jacoby Ford, Darrius Heyward-Bey and rookies Denarius Moore and Taiwan Jones.
Yet on Sunday, with all but Heyward-Bey unavailable, the Raiders won their third straight game, a 25-20 decision over the Chicago Bears, to improve to 7-4 and stay atop the AFC West.
The Raiders had to resort to a different formula Sunday at O.co Coliseum, using Sebastian Janikowski’s team-record six field goals, three interceptions of Bears fill-in QB Caleb Hanie and Carson Palmer’s 301 yards passing to get the job done.
In fact it was the injury to Bears starting quarterback Jay Cutler last week in Chicago’s victory over the Chargers that likely had the most impact on Sunday’s decision.
Hanie, in his first NFL start, was 18-of-35 for 254 yards and two scores, but was picked off by Stanford Routt, Michael Huff and Kamerion Wimbley. Two of the interceptions led to first-half field goals by Janikowski.
Four Janikowski field goals – from 40, 47, 42 and 19 yards – gave the Raiders a 12-7 lead at the half. Two more kicks, from 37 and 44 yards, put Oakland up 18-7. Yet when Robbie Gould kicked field goals of 50 and 53 yards at the start of the fourth quarter for the Bears, the Raiders’ lead had been cut to just five points at 18-13.
It was then that Oakland finally locked up the game by driving from its own 26 in eight plays to score on Michael Bush’s 3-yard run to go up 25-13. On the drive, Palmer connected on passes of 9 yards to Heyward-Bey, 14 yards to Chaz Schillens and 47 yards to Louis Murphy to the 3 to set up Bush’s score. The touchdown was Oakland’s first fourth-quarter score since a game against Houston Oct. 9, a drought that covered 21 fourth-quarter series.
The Bears came right back, with Kellen Davis catching a 9-yard TD pass from Hanie with just over two minutes remaining in the game, but the Raiders covered the ensuing onside kick and Shane Lechler pinned the Bears to their own 4 with a 50-yard punt with 1:01 remaining. Time ran out with the Bears on their own 46.
With the Raiders’ win and the Tim Tebow-led Broncos taking down the Chargers in OT for their fourth straight victory, Oakland maintains its one-game lead in the AFC West over Denver (6-5).
Sunday against the Bears, Bush rushed 24 times for 69 yards, while Palmer completed 21-of-37 passes for 301 yards and an interception. Though the Raiders consistently moved the ball into Chicago territory, they couldn’t come through on third down – converting just 3-of-15 chances – and had to settle for Janikowski field goals until Bush’s TD run in the fourth quarter.
Oakland travels to Miami Sunday to play the 3-8 Dolphins.