Raiders 27, Chargers 7
In their second meeting of the season, experience won out for Oakland as veteran quarterback Rich Gannon and wide receiver Jerry Rice led the Raiders to a decisive 27-7 victory over the San Diego Chargers with the AFC West lead on the line.
Before 67,968, the second-largest crowd ever at Qualcomm Stadium, Gannon passed for 328 yards on 26 of 41 attempts, the 10th time this season he has thrown for more than 300 yards, an NFL record.
Rice's 56-yard reception midway through the third quarter energized his team, and led to the touchdown that broke the game open. He finished the game with seven receptions for 113 yards, as the Raiders (9-4) avenged a 27-21 overtime home loss to the Chargers (8-5) on Oct. 20.
"Jerry Rice came up very big for us today," Oakland Coach Bill Callahan said.
So did the Raiders' defense. Oakland stymied San Diego, holding Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson to 57 yards rushing and one touchdown on 18 carries and intercepting quarterback Drew Brees three times. Brees finished with 239 yards on 22-of-41 passing. In their earlier win over the Raiders, Tomlinson rushed for 153 yards on 39 carries.
"I thought we got ourselves into too many third and longs," said Brees, trying to explain his difficulties. "I think they had a good scheme for us on third and long, and were able to stop us. But other times, I think we were just stopping ourselves."
"It was a dominant effort on the defensive side of the ball," Callahan said. "I thought our guys came out and they were fresh, they were physical, they put hits -- lots of hits -- on number 21 [Tomlinson], and I think that was one of the decisive factors in the game."
San Diego Coach Marty Schottenheimer was extremely disappointed with his team's performance.
"We did not play the way it is necessary to play to beat a good football team like the Raiders," he said. "We turned the ball over three times, and you cannot do that and win in the National Football League."
Oakland's special teams also played a key role in the win. The Raiders got off to a quick start, thanks to a 65-yard kickoff return by Marcus Knight. Six plays and 3 minutes 48 seconds later, running back Charlie Garner scored on a four-yard touchdown run. After San Diego punted away its first possession, Oakland went up 10-0 on a 51-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski.
The Chargers' problems got worse early in the second quarter. On San Diego's second play, Brees was intercepted by Oakland cornerback Terrance Shaw, and the Raiders' offense -- unstoppable, to that point -- had the ball at the San Diego 39-yard line. But a staunch Chargers defense held, forcing the Raiders to punt.
With San Diego's defensive stand, the momentum temporarily shifted. The Raiders were held deep in their own territory on their next possession, and a 34-yard punt by Shane Lechler put the Chargers at the Oakland 45.
On third and eight, Brees threw a 17-yard bullet over the middle to wide receiver Eric Parker, putting San Diego on the Oakland 26. After short Chargers gains and two Raiders penalties, Tomlinson vaulted over Oakland's defensive line from one yard out.
The Raiders began their next drive with excellent field position, but the Chargers' defense was smothering, and a 49-yard field goal attempt by Janikowski missed wide left. Three plays later, however, a deflected Brees pass was intercepted by cornerback Rod Woodson. This time, the Raiders capitalized, taking a 13-7 lead on a 20-yard field goal by Janikowski.
On its opening drive of the second half, San Diego took the ball from its own 20 deep into Raiders territory, highlighted by a 26-yard pass from Brees to wide receiver Josh Norman. On fourth and one at the Oakland 31, a wall of Raiders stopped Tomlinson for a three-yard loss.
On its next possession, Oakland was forced to punt. Tim Dwight returned the kick 37 yards, cutting and faking his way to the Oakland 47. But after a 15-yard ramble by Tomlinson drove San Diego to the Raiders 30, Brees was intercepted by Raiders cornerback Tory James.
Then it was time for Rice to get in on the dramatics. On third and six from the Raiders 17-yard line, Gannon hit Rice in full stride for a 56-yard gain. Six plays later, Zack Crockett ran for a one-yard touchdown, capping an eight-play, 87-yard drive, and putting the Raiders ahead 20-7 with 2:02 left in the third quarter.
San Diego's next drive foundered, and the Raiders were on the move again. Oakland marched 76 yards in a 13-play drive that took 7:24, scoring on a four-yard run by Tyrone Wheatley. By that point, the stadium was half empty, and the crowd that remained was nearly all Raiders fans.
"It's always great to play here," said Oakland tackle Lincoln Kennedy, who grew up in San Diego. "But what's even more great is to look up in the stands and see so much silver and black."