In the end, it all came down to this: Just win, baby.
A day after Raiders owner Al Davis passed away at the age of 82, his beloved team – many players and coaches still shaken by the news of his passing – held on to beat the Houston Texans 25-20 at Reliant Stadium Sunday.
It wasn’t dominating Raiders football from the bygone eras of Lamonica or Stabler or Plunkett, and it wasn’t a win built by the “vertical game” Davis so loved.
Instead, it was a victory built on a series of minor miracles that simply would not allow a Raiders loss on this day.
It was Michael Huff intercepting Matt Schaub in his own end zone on the final play of the game, after the Texans had moved to the Oakland 5-yard line.
It was Janikowski connecting on three other field goals of 54, 55 and 50 yards.
It was the Oakland defensive line tipping half a dozen Matt Schaub passes, while the defense as a whole finally stepped up against the run, holding Arian Foster to 68 yards rushing.
And it was Darrius Heyward-Bey breaking a tackle late in the first half to sprint to a 34-yard touchdown after catching a pass from Jason Campbell.
Perhaps apropos, Davis had gambled first-round picks on Heyward-Bey and Janikowski, when critics said they weren’t worth it. And Davis put his faith in Jackson after last season, hiring him to turn the Raiders around.
At Reliant Stadium, the trio played big roles in the Raiders improving to 3-2.
It was a huge day for Heyward-Bey, who caught seven passes for 99 yards and the touchdown. On Saturday, upon hearing news of Davis’ death, Heyward-Bey tweeted: “R.I.P. Coach Al Davis … Thank you for everything. You’ve changed my life. A true players owner. #JustWinBaby.”
Davis was in the thoughts and prayers of others, too. A moment of silence was held before the game – as it was to be held at every stadium in the league Sunday – and a black “Al” sticker was affixed to every silver and black helmet. Many of the Raiders fans who traveled to the game came with signs and banners honoring the team’s longtime owner.
Then, as the game ended, Jackson, hugged Al’s son, Mark Davis, and sunk to his knees, overcome with emotion.
When the game was over, Jackson told his team he felt Davis’ presence.
“Coach is somewhere up there rejoicing that his team did what he told them to do, ‘just win,’ ”Jackson said.
This was one the Raiders wanted.
A loss just wasn’t going to happen.