It wasn't pretty. It wasn't easy. But in the end, the Oakland Raiders outmuscled the muscular Chicago Bears, grinding out points using their defense and special teams dynamic duo of Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski to hold onto sole possession of first place in the AFC West.
The Raiders defense picked off backup quarterback Caleb Hanie three times, and their injury-depleted offense ground out enough yardage to allow Janikowski to convert on a team-record six field goals. Bruising backup running back Michael Bush, again filling in for starter Darren McFadden, registered a tough 69 yards rushing against a tough and motivated Bears defense, including a late-game touchdown that clinched the game for Oakland.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the win for the Raiders was the fact that they were playing without three of their most explosive playmakers on offense. Running back Darren McFadden missed his third consecutive game with a foot injury, and wide receivers Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford were also unable to go. With the Bears coming into the game winners of five straight, Oakland seemed to potentially be in for a long afternoon.
But the Raiders aren't a one-weapon team, and Chicago learned the hard way that Oakland has a few unsung heroes that can be lethal to an opponent. Kicker Sebastian Janikowski showed why he is the most effective kicker in the NFL, and punter Shane Lechler completely neutralized Chicago's Devin Hester, averaging 54.6 yards per punt and booming an incredible 80-yarder over Hester's head in the second half.
The Raider victory should answer any doubts about their potential to not only win the AFC West, but to make a run deep into the playoffs. While other teams are wilting down the stretch in the face of injuries incurred during the grueling NFL season, the Raiders are coming together as a team and grinding out wins by any means available. That spells trouble for the rest of the league when the big guns like McFadden get healthy.