Chargers-Raiders: San Diego Plays Familiar Tune in Victory over Oakland

Michael Scarr@@scarrpmContributor ISeptember 16, 2009

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Darren Sproles #43 of the San Diego Chargers scores the game-winning touchdown on a 5-yard rushing TD in the fourth quarter against Ricky Brown #57 of the Oakland Raiders on September 14, 2009 at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Gertrude Stein was clearly wrong about Oakland.

It is precisely there—a place that often gets noticed for the wrong reasons—where the Chargers go to get a victory.

Any place else Monday night, and the team would be practicing this week with the task—yet again—of trying to make up ground, tread water, fill in the hole.

But the Raiders are tonic for a Chargers’ team like none other.

The last 12 games between the two teams have produced 12 positive results for San Diego, a streak that was also matched by the Patriots’ late-game rally over the Bills Monday night.

It’s a rivalry that’s about as current as the Raiders' multipurpose stadium. Is any other NFL team hosting games on a baseball diamond still?

The Raiders have not won a game in the home-and-home seasonal series since the Bill Callahan era in 2003. A year earlier, they were routed in the Super Bowl and no claims of excellence have made them a factor since.

And, as is often the case in cruel running jokes such as this, on Monday night, the Raiders probably should have won, but didn’t.

The Chargers, slated as prohibitive favorites to win the AFC West, if not challenge for the conference crown, sleepwalked their way through 58 minutes of football as if it were exhibition game No. 5.

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As hosts in the regular season opener and nightcap of a primetime television doubleheader, the Raiders were the team that was prepared for the lights.

Aside from the expected erratic passing game in the controls of JaMarcus Russell, the Raiders were otherwise crisp in their execution, while employing a running game that gained yards and a defense that made the Chargers look absolutely ordinary.

It was a game that all the Raiders had to do was keep close because even Russell, for as inaccurate as he mostly was, could complete one deep ball, and he did.

That pass badly torched the Chargers' secondary and gave the Raiders the lead with two minutes and change to go.

But they’re the Raiders, and the Chargers rallied when Darren Sproles squirted through for a game-winning touchdown run with 18 seconds to spare.

Where would the Chargers be without Sproles? More on that later.

Head coach Norv Turner, general manager A.J. Smith, and the rest of the Chargers' coaching staff need to send a case of their favorite beverage to the schedule warden for penciling the Raiders in for Game One.

Make that two cases.

If the Chargers had opened in Baltimore, Miami, or Tennessee—even Denver—then avoiding the loss column would have been highly unlikely.

The Raiders controlled the line of scrimmage, at times, on both sides of the ball and specifically showed they will be able to make some noise defensively this season with the addition of Richard Seymour, who played both end and tackle Monday night.

Along the other sideline stood a team that more often appeared to be in need of a couple more weeks of two-a-days.

Quarterback Philip Rivers seemingly struggled with the concept of the play clock and more than once was flagged for delay of game.

His notoriously competitive nature was on display again and may have cast a shadow over the game had he not engineered a game-winning, and possibly season-saving, drive at the end.

Rivers’ 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty for taunting was familiar, but so was the fourth-quarter comeback.

And familiar, too, was the result over the Raiders—the anticipation of which played on the face of a supremely calm Turner, who seemingly took each misstep by his team as mere inconveniences.

More problematic will be the losses of offensive linemen Nick Hardwick and Louis Vazquez, both of who left Monday night’s game with injuries and could prove difficult to replace.

Rising again, though, to float the fortunes of his team was Sproles, whose $6.6 million franchise tag is looking to be every bit the stimulus the Chargers will need this season.

On the game-winning drive, Sproles, along with Antonio Gates and Legedu Naanee, provided Rivers with the requisite clutch plays to help the Chargers march 89 yards to a 24-20 victory.

Sproles contributed with three huge plays on the drive: a 15-yard reception for a first down and a pair of five-yard runs to cover the final 10—the last through a hole that only Sproles was likely to find.

That 1-0 mark the Chargers now possess looks a lot closer to their .500 record of a year ago than the double digit victories expected from this team.

Unless, of course, they play the Raiders, in which case they’d find a way to win every game.