The San Diego Chargers lost their fourth game in a row, turning out yet another unimpressive performance in front of a national audience on NFL Network's Thursday Night Football. The win put the Raiders on top of the AFC West at 5-4. Meanwhile, the Chargers (4-5) fell below .500 for the first time this season.
San Diego struggled to contain the Raiders pass-rush all night long. Already missing All-Pro guard Chris Dielman, who could be seen on the sidelines in street clothes, starting left tackle Marcus McNeill was carted of the field in the first quarter and did not return.
They lost starting right guard Luis Vasquez shortly after, who had moved over to fill in on the left side for Dielman. Brandyn Dombrowski came in for McNeill and got thoroughly blown up by the Raiders defense. Ultimately, it was QB Philip Rivers and the offense's inability to find any sort of rhythm against Oakland's aggressive, tenacious pass-rush that determined the outcome of this game.
Dombrowski, a third-year player who's performed well in relief of McNeill during the last two seasons, looked like a turn style Sunday night against Oakland. Despite being widely considered a dependable, experienced back-up with tremendous upside potential, he clearly seemed unprepared to come in against the Raiders.
When Vasquez went down, the Chargers suddenly found themselves very thin along the offensive line, which by that point only two regular starters remained, All-Pro center Nick Hardwick and the oft-criticized journeyman right tackle Jeromey Clary. Clary did not do himself any favors on Sunday night, struggling to contain his assignment multiple times as well.
By the middle of the third quarter, the Raiders were essentially facing off against the Chargers' second-team offensive line and had reached the very limit of their depth at the position. The result was that Philip Rivers could not get the time nor the space he needed in the pocked with enough consistency to be successful.
The Chargers took my advise from last week, giving impressive rookie running back Curtis Brinkley, and equally impressive defensive back Marcus Gilchrist, a shot at returning kicks. Although Brinkley showed some great moves on his one return for 22 yards, the net gain on the night hardly even warranted the switch from Richard Goodman.
Once again, Patrick Crayton showed us that his strength in the return game is calling for a far catch. After yet another dismal performance returning punts against Oakland, it's time for Rich Bisaccia to work someone else into the mix on punts more sooner than later.
I've said it before and I will say it again: Carson Palmer will do for the Raiders what Rich Gannon did for the franchise back in the late 1990's and early 2000's.
Palmer played a perfect game through three quarters, and demonstrated a much higher level of comfort leading the Raiders offense in this, his second game as the starter. He had audibles multiple times throughout the contest, an indication that he has grasped the offense well enough to change the play at the line of scrimmage based, and the ability to accurately read the defensive look he's given and adjust accordingly.
Palmer did turn the ball over twice, giving the Chargers multiple opportunities to get back in the game late. Ultimately, though, he played well enough to lead the Raiders to victory, finishing the night 14-of-22 for 299 yards and two touchdown with one interception and one fumble.
As good as he looked tonight, albeit against an undermanned, overworked defense, the Raiders have officially become Carson Palmer's team for the foreseeable future. Barring injury, don't expect Jason Campbell to compete for a starting job again for the Oakland Raiders.
Raiders fans have a lot to be excited about, and Palmer should give Chargers fans plenty of reason for concern. It's bad enough to drop three straight games to Oakland. Adding insult to injury is that the Raiders will be much tougher to beat than they have been—especially now that they've secured a legitimate signal caller.
Palmer is an All-Pro quarterback who threw for nearly 11,000 yards and 80 touchdowns in his first three years as a starter with the Bengals. He's only 31 years old and is surrounded by enough talent to be successful for the first time in at least three years.
Provided the Chargers can get back on track this year, somehow, the once great, since forgotten rivalry between these two former AFL franchises just may have made a comeback.