Oakland Raiders vs. Carolina Panthers: Full Report Card Grades for Oakland
Just when you thought the Oakland Raiders would trounce the Carolina Panthers with a high-powered offense, disaster struck via injury and a crumbling defense. Yet, the Raiders picked up the pieces for another comeback victory to clinch their first winning season since 2002.
The Silver and Black overwhelmingly dominated the first half with a fluent passing attack and a stingy defense. Oakland only allowed 12 passing yards through 30 minutes. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton threw more touchdown passes to defensive lineman Khalil Mack than his own receivers. The Raiders edge-rusher returned an interception for a touchdown before halftime, and Oakland led 24-7.
The second half put the team and the fans at the Oakland Coliseum in a somber mood. Quarterback Derek Carr mangled the little finger on his throwing hand while receiving a snap under center; he left the field screaming in pain. The Panthers started their push back into the contest with a touchdown off Carr’s fumble on the mishandled snap.
Newton tossed two perfectly thrown deep balls to wideouts Ted Ginn Jr. and Kelvin Benjamin. Running back Jonathan Stewart scored his second touchdown in between the passing scores. Despite Carr’s immediate return, after missing one series, the mood and momentum shifted from the sidelines all the way up through the stands. The players made costly errors, and the Panthers captured a 32-24 lead.
Then, Carr once again put on his MVP cape. He took advantage of wide receiver Michael Crabtree’s matchups against a rookie cornerback and a linebacker in deep coverage. Tight end Clive Walford finished a fourth-quarter drive with a difficult touchdown catch. On the following offensive series, kicker Sebastian Janikowski fired a 23-yard attempt between the uprights for a 35-32 lead.
Despite the horrific second-half defense, the group rallied to stymie the Panthers’ attempt to tie or score the go-ahead touchdown. Mack sealed the victory with a strip-sack on fourth down.
Through 60 minutes, we saw the best and worst of the Raiders defense, what Carr’s presence means to roster morale and the renewed toughness in this team. Oakland overcame a tidal wave-like momentum shift almost in a symbolic parallel to its quarterback perservering through injury.
Now, at 9-2, the Raiders continue to roll as winners in five consecutive games atop the AFC West.
Carr deserves an A for his toughness and grit, but he earns a B for on-field performance. He only missed one series due to a dislocated finger on his throwing hand, returned with a protective glove and eventually re-established his rhythm for a comeback. Without a productive ground attack, Carr’s late-game heroics propelled the team to victory.
However, Carr turned the ball over on consecutive drives before and after quarterback Matt McGloin took his place. The Panthers scored 13 points off Carr’s miscues alone. It’s unfair to fault him for not recovering the fumble, but he also threw a costly interception upon his return.
Even with the poor throw, Carr’s overall performance outshines the negative. He threw for 315 yards, two touchdowns and completed 68 percent of his passes.
The rushing offense disappeared for consecutive weeks. The Raiders running backs combined for 26 carries, 68 yards and one touchdown. The coaching staff decided to keep DeAndre Washington on the sideline as a healthy scratch. The Panthers contained Jalen Richard on the ground, and he didn’t record a catch.
Latavius Murray accumulated 88 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown as the most productive asset in the backfield. We also caught a glimpse of Taiwan Jones as a receiver with his 15-yard catch.
Once again, the Raiders offense lacked balance. The Panthers defensive line denied penetration and controlled the line of scrimmage in run situations.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Carr’s distribution has vastly improved through the weeks. He completed a pass to four wide receivers and two tight ends. Only one receiver, Crabtree, finished with more than 50 receiving yards.
However, Seth Roberts reeled in a touchdown and a two-point conversion as Crabtree’s complement. The Panthers silenced Amari Cooper; he finished with four catches for 22 yards.
Crabtree and Walford flashed as key components in the Raiders' last two offensive drives. Carr leaned on both passing options to tie the game and lead the Raiders into Panthers’ territory on the final scoring sequences.
In consecutive weeks, the Raiders offensive line didn’t look dominant at the point of attack. The Panthers pushed forward on run plays to bring Murray down on initial contact, while Carolina also sacked Carr twice.
The coaching staff kept Denver Kirkland—who typically lines up as the sixth offensive lineman—on the sidelines, which likely affected the Raiders’ ability to run the football effectively.
With the focus on exposing the middle of the Panthers defense with a receiving tight end and pass-catching running back, the Raiders sacrificed some beef up front. As a result, the onus fell on the passing attack to win the game.
On paper, Mack lists as a defensive end, and his spectacular night provided a boost for the mediocre play across the defensive line. Jihad Ward and Stacy McGee didn’t contribute much to the run defense, while Denico Autry blocked an extra point.
Mack brought enough to the table for all the defensive linemen. He became the first player to record a forced fumble, fumble recovery, a sack, an interception and score a touchdown in one game since Raiders favorite Charles Woodson in 2009, per ESPN Stats and Info.
Mack also extended his sack streak to six games, which is the longest active feat in the league.
The other half of the Raiders’ dynamic pass rush, Bruce Irvin, recorded a sack, and he also found his way into the backfield on several occasions.
Together Mack and Irvin recorded their best game as a pair within the front seven; both players made life difficult for Newton in the pocket.
Though it went unnoticed, the Raiders kept a lid on Panthers tight end Greg Olsen’s production. He logged four catches for 45 yards in a pedestrian performance, which comes as a surprise after Oakland struggled to cover tight ends over the past few weeks.
Despite Perry Riley's absence, the linebackers protected the middle of the field.
The Raiders cornerbacks received an A for the first half. However, the defensive backs opened the floodgates in the following 14 minutes. Ginn and Benjamin torched cornerbacks T.J. Carrie and Sean Smith during Carolina’s surge for the lead.
Ginn completely turned Carrie around like a whirlwind for an 88-yard catch-and-run touchdown, while Benjamin simply beat Smith on a 44-yard deep throw to the end zone.
Before D.J. Hayden sat on the bench with a hamstring injury, the referees flagged him for costly defensive pass interference and holding penalties. Without cornerback David Amerson on the field, the Raiders couldn’t sustain success against the Panthers’ passing attack.
Special teams didn’t play a huge part in swinging the momentum either way. However, the punter and kicker showed consistency in different fashions.
Marquette King has boomed a 50-yard punt at least once in every game, and he continued his streak against Carolina on Sunday.
Janikowski didn’t have issues with kicking accuracy from 23 yards out. His last field goal put the Raiders back on top after a mini collapse on both sides of the ball in the second half.
Per San Francisco Chronicle reporter Vic Tafur, head coach Jack Del Rio needed to restore confidence into a team that mentally hit a low point after Carr’s injury. Eventually, the offense found its rhythm, and the defense took a stand on the final drive to ice the game.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave decided to attack the Panthers linebackers with tight end Mychal Rivera and Jones catching out of the backfield.
In the first half, the Raiders moved the ball effortlessly, but the run blocking suffered up front throughout the game. Nonetheless, the coaching staff went back to Crabtree as a reliable target to close the game.
Defensive coordinator Ken Norton’s group nearly shut out the Panthers offense if not for one long run play for 47 yards downfield. Yet, the defense allowed 25 unanswered points in a huge momentum shift.
The Raiders coaching staff also played with fire in soft coverage on the final drive, allowing the Panthers to gain chunk yardage. Though risky, the bend-but-don’t-break defense prevailed to seal the victory.
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