In a Week 1 matchup featuring two of the AFC's fastest-rising teams, the Oakland Raiders defeated the Tennessee Titans, 26-16, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee.
Playing in his first game since he suffered a broken leg against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 16 last season, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr finished 22-of-32 with 262 yards and two touchdowns in the win.
The Raiders have high expectations in 2017 coming off a 12-win campaign last season. Carr's injury dashed their Super Bowl hopes last year, but his successful return in Week 1 has brought optimism back to Oakland.
After the Titans closed the gap to 23-16 with 4:54 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Raiders turned to their running backs to finish off the game. Marshawn Lynch and Jalen Richard combined for 34 yards and three first downs to take 3:40 off the clock.
Tennessee's defense stifled Lynch on 3rd-and-2 coming out of the two-minute warning, but Giorgio Tavecchio hit his fourth field goal of the game with 1:09 remaining to seal the Raiders' win. He also made history in the process, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Titans head coach Mike Mularkey took a big chance by going for an onside kick to start the game. It backfired when Raiders safety Shalom Luani recovered the ball at the 50-yard line.
Carr and the offense took advantage of the short field. Lynch got his first carry wearing the silver and black on the second play of the game, and he looked to be in full Beast Mode:
The Raiders used Lynch sparingly early in the game. After he toted the rock six times in the first quarter, he sat for the entire second quarter and finished with 76 yards on 18 carries in his first significant game action since Jan. 17, 2016.
Lynch's tackle-breaking ability appears to have rubbed off on star wideout Amari Cooper, who scored the game's first touchdown:
With things starting as poorly as possible for the Titans, Mariota went right to work on his first drive of the season. He orchestrated a 12-play, 75-yard drive that took nearly six minutes off the clock and culminated with his touchdown run from 10 yards out.
NFL Network's Andrew Siciliano offered a statistical nugget about what makes Tennessee's young quarterback so effective:
Given the strength of these two offenses, this game appeared destined to be a shootout. However, the defenses settled in after those opening touchdowns, and Oakland carrried a 13-10 lead into halftime.
The Raiders had a chance to give themselves some breathing room midway through the third quarter, but Carr's 14-yard completion to Cooper on 3rd-and-9 was called back on an illegal use of hands penalty. They settled for a field goal, extending their lead to 16-10.
Lynch's debut was a hot topic for the Raiders, but Tavecchio proved to be a crucial late addition to the roster. He was signed off the practice squad Saturday when Sebastian Janikowski was placed on injured reserve.
Following a Titans field goal on the ensuing possession, Oakland's offense went into attack mode by going 70 yards in seven plays. Carr had 54 passing yards, including 19 on a touchdown pass to Seth Roberts, to help open a 23-13 lead following Tavecchio's successful extra point.
The Titans defense didn't conjure memories of the 1985 Chicago Bears, but they may have found a star in rookie cornerback Adoree' Jackson.
Jackson made two plays like that while matched up against Raiders wide receiver Michael Crabtree in the game. He finished the day with four tackles.
The big story for Oakland coming into the season was whether its defense would be stout enough to support its high-powered offense. Khalil Mack won NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2016, but the Raiders as a team finished 20th in points allowed (24.1) and 26th in total defense (375.1 yards allowed).
They did demonstrate some improvement on that side of the ball in Week 1. The Titans put up 350 yards and converted seven of their 14 third-down attempts, but that was after they went 5-of-6 on third down in the first half.
Oakland did stifle Tennessee's potent rushing attack, on the bright side. DeMarco Murray, who had 1,287 rushing yards in 2016, finished the day with 44 rushing yards on 12 carries.
Oakland's offense is stacked with playmakers, and it could be even better than it was last year if Lynch stays healthy. The defense will determine whether this team can emerge as a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
The Titans looked sluggish on offense after the opening drive. Mariota was hit-and-miss with 256 passing yards and 26 rushing yards, but this is the kind of hard-nosed game a young team should learn from heading into a Week 2 contest against the Jacksonville Jaguars.