Tony Sparano sent a lot of messages to his players the past week.
The new Raiders head coach buried the past in a ceremony, told his team the 0-4 start was wiped clean and said he wanted to see the Raiders celebrate a victory over the Chargers at O.co Coliseum Sunday.
“He just said he wants to see us smile after a win Sunday,” Oakland defensive tackle Antonio Smith told a reporter this past week.
For most of Sunday’s game, those smiles seemed a very real possibility. The Raiders had the 4-1 Chargers on the ropes, holding a 28-21 lead late in the fourth quarter thanks to some brilliant quarterback play from rookie Derek Carr, a resurgent running game, solid defense and offensive and defensive lines that outplayed San Diego.
But in the end, the Chargers offense was just too much too overcome. San Diego pulled out a 31-28 victory, dropping the Raiders to 0-5 with an 11th straight loss.
After holding the Chargers to a field goal with four minutes left to maintain a 28-24 lead, Oakland couldn’t sustain a drive and had to turn the ball over. Keenan Allen then gave San Diego great field position at the Oakland 39 with a 29-yard punt return, before Philip Rivers led a six-play drive for the go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard run by Brendan Oliver.
The Raiders still had one last possession, but a deep ball by Carr intended for Brice Butler was intercepted at the Chargers 5, sealing the San Diego win.
But for the first time this season, Sparano had the Raiders playing with life.
Running backs Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew combined for 110 yards rushing as Oakland had a season-high 114.
And Carr was exceptional. He gave Oakland a quick 7-0 lead with a 77-yard strike to Andre Holmes in the first quarter, then added three more TD passes, to James Jones, Brice Butler and Holmes again.
On the day, Carr was 18-of-34 for 282 yards, and also led Oakland to convert 8-of-13 third-down plays.
Though they lost, the Raiders were a much different team Sunday. The fan base certainly was energized by what it saw in the first game since Dennis Allen was fired as head coach.
Tweeted one: “Even though they lost, I’m really proud of my boys @RAIDERS. They played well and really stepped up. Looking forward to the rest of the season!” Tweeted another: “Good team effort. At least we are improving … next week with Cards is a win yall.”
The Raiders stay home this week and play host to the Arizona Cardinals this coming Sunday at 1:25 p.m., still looking for win No. 1.
After Sunday’s performance, it no longer seems like a hopeless cause.