On his 24th day as an Oakland Raider, Carson Palmer finally made his presence felt as a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback. And as a result, the Raiders are back in control of the AFC West after handing the heavy division-favorite San Diego Chargers their fourth consecutive loss.
Palmer’s accumulation-based numbers weren’t eye-popping — he completed just 14 passes — but he finished with 299 yards on only 20 attempts and a passer rating of 125.0, winning his first game in almost 11 months. As a result, Hue Jackson, who had already come under heavy scrutiny after trading two high draft picks in exchange for Palmer, can finally exhale.
But it was another team effort for Oakland. The Raiders only need Palmer to make throws on long downs and limit mistakes while keeping defenses honest. Darren McFadden can usually take care of the rest. But for the third straight week, the Raiders didn’t have their superstar running back Thursday night.
It didn’t matter.
In McFadden’s stead, Michael Bush stepped up with 242 yards from scrimmage on 33 touches. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry despite running it 30 times. The Chargers couldn’t cheat because Palmer killed them when necessary. He completed three passes of 40-plus yards and added a 26-yarder as well. To put that into perspective, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Jay Cutler each have just four completions of 40-plus yards all season and Jason Campbell had three in six games before going down.
That Oakland jumped out to a 17-3 first-half lead was key, because early on it appeared as though Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert were going to have big nights against a beatable run defense. Because the Chargers were down, Rivers was forced to throw 47 passes. And while it’s hard to blame Rivers for this loss, he once again failed to look like an elite quarterback.
It’s hard to do so when your offensive line is depleted and you’re under constant pressure. Six sacks didn’t help, nor did a few dropped passes in the second half. Ultimately, Rivers completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes while adding his 15th interception of the year, which leads the league.
San Diego, which was already without regular starting left guard Kris Dielman, lost two more offensive linemen early, with left tackle Marcus McNeill and right guard Louis Vasquez going down. At one point, Rivers was taking snaps from a line that was down to its final five players.
A few other thoughts on the first Thursday Night Football game of 2011:
- You could tell the Chargers just weren’t themselves on offense, especially in the first half. Injuries were a big factor, as Rivers came under fire time and again. At one point, San Diego had four consecutive three-and-outs.
- The Raiders dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The Chargers, who were missing one of their top pass rushers in Shaun Phillips, were only able to get to Palmer for one sack.
- Quietly, Kamerion Wimbley had four sacks for the Raiders. He was a force, especially on third down, where Oakland held San Diego to just five conversions on 16 attempts. Wimbley now has 15 sacks in 25 games as a Raider. I wonder how frustrated Browns fans must feel while watching him succeed in Oakland.
- Despite probably not being 100 percent coming off a groin injury, Mathews showed great burst early. He looks much better this year than he did as a rookie.
- If Antonio Garay or Marcus McNeill are forced to miss time, the Chargers could be screwed. Even more so.
- There’s a decent chance the Bolts make it five straight losses. Now they have to travel to Chicago next week. They’d better get healthy with nine days to prepare.
- With two of their next three games against Minnesota and Miami (who have a combined three wins) the Raiders could have a chance to pull away in the AFC West.
- Four days after going nuts against Green Bay, Vincent Jackson disappeared. He wasn’t even the best Vincent on his own team — Vincent Brown caught one touchdown pass and was robbed of another after a controversial overruling. The rookie out of San Diego State pretty much doubled his numbers for the season with five catches, 97 yards and a touchdown. And when Rivers needed Jackson to step up late, he lost a potential touchdown pass in the lights. The play resulted in what was essentially a game-ending interception. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Jackson in upcoming weeks, because he didn’t look like an elite receiver Thursday night.
- Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock killed it. After playing musical chairs with commentators and analysts for five years, it looks as though NFL Network has nailed it in Season 6. Mayock is one of the smartest guys in the game, but he’s also very good at communicating and picking his spots. And he’s likable. Oh, and he’s critical. How rare is it to find a completely honest color guy who isn’t sucking up to coaches and players (I’m looking at you, Jon Gruden)? And Nessler’s underrated — he’s so smooth and easy to listen to.