Raiders: A brawl, a rain storm, a victory

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — Where did Ken Norton watch the game? We know that for the first time in three seasons it wasn’t from the Raiders sidelines. We also know that the Raider defense, the one under the direction of Norton until early last week, on Sunday finally recorded its first interception of the season — in the 11th game — and Oakland played its best defense in a while.

How much did that have to do with head coach Jack Del Rio dumping Norton as defensive coordinator and replacing him with John Pagano? How much did that have to do with facing the quarterback-challenged Denver Broncos?

Maybe some of both. Maybe none of either. After all, the talk was that Del Rio really makes the calls on defense.

He or Pagano made the right ones on a rainy Sunday at the Coliseum. At least until the fourth quarter. It was Oakland’s game from the start, and then, whew, after a great call and maneuver on a third-and-eight from the Raider 15 with two and half minutes to go, Derek Carr to Cordarrelle Patterson for 54 yards, it was Oakland’s game at the end, 21-14.

It wasn’t the Patriots the Raiders were playing. Or the Redskins. Or even the Colts, teams that had beaten Oakland. But the victory cannot be dismissed. Especially with Kansas City losing again — five of the last six — and leaving the Raiders at 5-6, only one game behind the 6-5 Chiefs.

The teams play in two weekends at K.C., where Oakland never wins. Still, with the New York Giants coming to the Coliseum on Sunday, and even the 49ers beat the Giants, the Raiders would appear in better position for the playoffs than a few days back.

“Nice to be able to deliver,” said Del Rio, “and come out with a hard-fought victory.”

And he didn’t mean the near-brawl that began some three minutes into the game, when Oakland receiver Michael Crabtree, carrying a year’s grudge, went after Denver cornerback Aqib Talib, apparently because last season Talib grabbed a chain hanging from Crabtree’s neck.

Before anyone knew it, they and numerous others were punching and grabbing along the Broncos’ sideline. When the battling finally stopped, Crabtree, Talib and Oakland guard Gabe Jackson had been ejected. “We can’t afford to lose one of our top receivers and then our starting guard," said Del Rio. “I like to count on my guys to do the right thing.”

Which their teammates did on the field, on defense, Denver gaining only 51 yards its first 10 offensive plays, and on offense, the Raiders totaling 348 yards, 67 of those on 26 carries by the guy nicknamed Beast Mode, the local, Marshawn Lynch — who also caught three passes for 44 yards.

“We wanted to possess the ball,” Del Rio said — which definitely they managed to do, keeping it almost 36 minutes of the total 60.

“We wanted to run the ball,” he said. “I think I made a statement earlier in the week that Marshawn coming back from the one-game suspension, I feel like he’s come back with more purpose, resolve, whatever it might be. He’s come back operating in a way that’s good for us. Very decisive and very purposeful about his running and approach.”

You’d never find out as much from the subject himself. Lynch rarely talks.  

Crabtree was tossed, and Oakland’s other key receiver, Amari Cooper, was leveled in the second quarter by Darien Stewart on what was called unnecessary roughness. Cooper left with what was believed to be a concussion.

“It was a vicious hit,” Del Rio insisted. “The kind we’re trying to remove from the game. Those are the kinds of impact hits that don’t need to be part of the game. The guy is clearly defenseless and got targeted right in the head.”

The Raiders will learn more about Cooper‘s recovery and about Crabtree’s penalty as the days go. What they already learned was that, when needed, they can perform.

“We had all three phases contribute,” said Del Rio. “When you’re dropping four punts inside the 10 like we did tonight, that’s a good thing for field position. Offensively, when you‘re able to rush 37 times, that means we were possessing the ball.”

He neglected specifically to point out passing, quarterback Derek Carr going 18 of 24 for 253 yards and two touchdowns.

“I thought there was a certainty, decisiveness. Play fast. Play very fast.”

And, of course, win.

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