What a game!
The Oakland Raiders went down to San Diego to play a must-win game against the Chargers. It was also a must-win for San Diego, who had lost three in a row going in, so this was going to a highly contested grudge match between the division rivals.
You learn the most about a football team when they actually play, and the Raiders were no exception tonight.
Turn the page to see what we learned.
Even with quarterback Carson Palmer losing eight on purpose at the end of the game, the Raiders rushed for 191 yards on the night. What the Raiders accomplished Thursday was why I expected so much from Palmer from the beginning.
When you dominate the game on offense by running the ball, the passing game is sure to open up. I threw out Palmer's first game against the Chiefs because that game was lost before he ever went in.
Then against the Broncos last week, Jackson just turned the game over to Palmer, who wasn't ready yet. Thursday, Jackson remembered that he had a bully and he used the power running game despite the loss of RB Darren McFadden.
Michael Bush bullied his way to 30 carries for 157 yards and a touchdown.
This is how the Raiders win football games.
After the Raiders seemed to have their run defense tightened up for three games in a row, they gave up over 300 yards rushing to the Denver Broncos—bringing back the perception that they couldn't stop the run.
I told all who would listen that it was nothing to worry about because the Raiders weren't going to face a college-style offense again this year. Against San Diego the Raiders run defense showed up, as they held the Chargers to 75 yards rushing.
If the Raiders can figure out the crazy run plays, they won't be run through again like they were against the Broncos.
The Raiders jumped out to a 17-7 halftime lead against the Broncos and we know the result of that one.
Thursday the Raiders jumped out to a 17-3 halftime lead and the Chargers closed the margin to 24-14 late in the game.
Then you had Philip Rivers all set to make the game-tying drive after being given a second chance by a penalty.
But as Hue Jackson always says, "We don't blink." The defense closed out the game with an interception.
That's the second time this season a Raiders game his finished by a turnover on defense.
I believe the biggest difference in the defense from last week to this, both run and pass, is Rolando McClain.
In his second year in the league, McClain is proving himself to be more than just a physical presence on the Raiders defense.
This is why I believe McClain would have been a huge difference in the Broncos game. McClain made sure he lined up the defense in the right spots and reminded guys who they had and what their assignments were.
Statistically, McClain had just five tackles because the Chargers mainly ran outside, and three passes defensed.
A lot of eyes have been on Kamerion Wimbley since he got the big contract this offseason. In the first half of the season, he didn't have big sack numbers, but he put plenty of pressure on the quarterback.
Tonight, Wimbley's work turned into big-time production as he had four sacks in the game. He had numerous pressures and hits to go with those sacks too, and his play against the run and in coverage tripled his value.
With 6.5 sacks so far this year, Wimbley is having a year that's matching his salary.
The Raiders are going to have to franchise Bush when the season ends because they can't just lose him. I already mentioned his 157 yards on the ground in McFadden's stead, but it didn't stop there.
Bush also caught three passes for 85 yards to show some versatility to his game. Bush's huge night chalked up to 242 total yards from scrimmage on 33 touches.
McFadden hasn't even done that.
Bush may not be as explosive as McFadden but he is every bit a weapon.
Those were some huge holes that Bush was running through as he ran still mostly left, right and middle tonight.
Bush had options as to where he could run in large part to Stefen Wisniewski. Wisniewski handled the nose tackle position, which is the most important thing when playing against a 3-4.
Wisniewski also did a great job in calling protections, picking up blitzes and picking up stunts. That's something that Jackson had a hard time trusting the rookie to do, but had no choice with starting C Samson Satele injured.
Wisniewksi has done nothing but shown that he is the better player at center in Satele's stead this year.
Rookie Joseph Barksdale looks like he's more than ready to take the starting right tackle spot.
I thought that veteran Khalif Barnes did a nice job in pass protection but didn't get push off the line of scrimmage in the run game.
The left side has always been a place that the Raiders could run the ball with huge results. I already mentioned what Wisniewski did for the middle, and Barksdale gives Raiders running backs open holes on the right side.
There's nothing wrong with his pass blocking either so it's time for him to start.
After a couple of not-so-pretty outings, Palmer went out tonight with big-game pressure, in front of the whole country, and played lights out. He was 14 of 20 for 299 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, and a quarterback rating of 125.
If Bush would have only done a better job picking up a blitzing outside linebacker, Palmer would have had a perfect quarterback rating.
He would have hit Louis Murphy, who was wide open in the end zone, for a third touchdown instead of getting hit as he threw—causing his pass to float and fall short for an interception.
Palmer has a fitting number (No. 3) since he resembled the "Mad Bomber" Daryle Lamonica with all the deep balls he was completing. Palmer averaged 14.9 yards per attempt tonight—breaking Lamonica's Raiders record of 14.3 from 1968.
Palmer was on the couch three weeks ago.
That's scary because he'll only get better.
Denarius Moore, after killing it in training camp, the preseason and early in the season, looked to have tailed off a bit or so it seemed.
But you can't always look at the stats because Moore just wasn't being targeted that much and when he was open on deep balls, Jason Campbell was missing him.
Enter Palmer, and those deep balls are finding Moore these days. He will get plenty of targets as Palmer loves throwing to him. In a postgame interview on NFL Network, Palmer said, "Denarius Moore can be as good he wants to be."
Did you see the way he was beating Chargers cornerback Quentin Jammer by two steps?
I guess that's why Darius Heyward-Bey isn't getting targeted too much these days.
Wimbley got the statistical rewards, but the Raiders defensive line really got after Rivers on Thursday. Holding Rivers to under 300 yards passing on 47 attempts and a quarterback rating of 72.3 is no small feat.
Kudos to Jackson for unleashing Palmer after previously pounding the Chargers defense on the ground. I thought Lito Sheppard did a good job in coverage at corner after getting off the couch himself.
I also have to give Kevin Boss some love as he had a crucial third-down catch to sustain a drive late in the game. The pass protection for Palmer and the running game to go with all these fast receivers is a lethal combination.
The next game is in 10 days, so guys like Ford (hurt tonight), McFadden, DeMarcus VanDyke, Michael Huff and Chris Johnson have time to lick their wounds.
And guess what?
The Raiders are in first place in the AFC West baby!
Al Davis is smiling.