Their high-priced free-agent cornerback gave up a 98-yard touchdown pass and eventually was benched. Injuries forced them to create a makeshift offensive line in the second half. And time after time they committed costly penalties.
Yet on Sunday at the Superdome in New Orleans, the Raiders rallied to beat the Saints 35-34, using a late touchdown pass from Derek Carr to Seth Roberts and then a gutsy call for a 2-point conversion for an unlikely positive start to the 2016 regular season.
After Roberts scored on a 10-yard play to put Oakland within one point, down 34-33, head coach Jack Del Rio gambled, deciding to go for two points and the victory on the road.
Carr then completed a pass to Michael Crabtree in the end zone to go up 35-34. Yet the Raiders celebrated too much, and were flagged, giving the Saints 15 extra yards on the ensuing kickoff.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees – who had a huge game, throwing for 423 yards and four touchdowns – then did his best with just 40 seconds left in the game, completing two passes to get to the Raiders 43-yard line. But with five seconds left, Saints rookie kicker Wil Lutz just missed a 61-yard field-goal attempt for the win, and the Raiders had their first season-opening win in years.
Carr also had a big day, completing 24 of 38 throws for 319 yards and a TD, with seven of those completions to Crabtree (for 87 yards) and six to Amari Cooper (for 137). Undrafted rookie free-agent running back Jalen Richard had just three carries but was electric, breaking one for 75 yards and a TD in the fourth quarter.
The Raiders took a 3-0 lead in the first quarter, then went up 10-3 on a Latavius Murray 6-yard TD run later in the quarter. But the Saints scored three straight unanswered touchdowns to go up 24-10 in the third quarter, the last on a 98-yard pass play to Brandin Cooks, who badly beat cornerback Sean Smith in one-on-one coverage, then outsprinted the entire Oakland defense. On the next series, Smith – who signed a big free-agent deal in the offseason – was replaced by DJ Hayden.
The Raiders also had to contend with an injury to right tackle Menelik Watson, who then was replaced by Matt McCants. When McCants was injured in the second half, Donald Penn switched from left tackle to right tackle, Kelechi Osemele moved to left tackle from left guard and second-year man Jon Feliciano took over for Osemele.
Oakland also was penalized 14 times for 141 yards.
For most of the second half, it appeared the Raiders were en route to a season-opening loss.
But thanks to three fourth-quarter TD drives and a gutsy call by Del Rio, the Raiders begin the first week of the new season atop the AFC West.