By Steve Corkran
Sunday, November 27th, 2011 at 7:34 pm in Oakland Raiders.
As it turned out, the Raiders needed today’s victory over the Chicago Bears just to remain one game ahead of the red-hot Denver Broncos in the AFC West.
The Broncos rallied for a 16-13 overtime victory against the San Diego Chargers, which moved the Broncos to 6-5, just behind the pacesetting Raiders at 7-4. The Chargers are all but done after dropping to 4-7.
Make no mistake, the Raiders beat the Bears today because of sparkling special teams play, namely in the form of six field goals by Sebastian Janikowski, an 80-yard punt by Shane Lechler, great play by the coverage units and a recovered on-side kick by rookie David Ausberry.
“That’s the reason why Shane Lechler and SeaBass are on this team,” Raiders coach Hue Jackson said. “Because those guys are phenomenal. They’re phenomenal at what they do, they’re the best in the league at what they do. We had to call on them today so many times, and they just kept answering the bell.”
Six times, Jackson summoned Janikowski. All six times, Janikowski delivered field goals — 40, 47, 42, 19, 37 and 44 yards.
The sixth one set a franchise record. Janikowski converted five field goals in a game three times during his 12-year NFL career. His sixth today came near the end of the third quarter.
“I always think that kickers and punters are important in this league,” Janikowski said. “It’s a field-changing position. You see Shane hit an 80-yarder today, and it flipped everything.”
Lechler said the 80-yarder came as a result of a gamble he took, with Bears return specialist Devin Hester creeping up in anticipation of a kick toward the sideline.
Instead, Lechler went for broke.
“We had angle punt left called,” Lechler said, “and that’s what we tried to do all night. … I caught Devin up close and I thought, ‘This is going to be all or nothing right here.’ And I caught it good.”
The Raiders sealed the game when Ausberry fell on a loose ball caused by a Bears defender knocking it loose from Matt Giordano just as the ball sailed the required 10 yards for it to be a legal on-side kick.,
FOR THE RECORDS
Janikowski now has a share of or owns two records from this season. In addition to the Raiders record for most field goals in one game, he tied an NFL record with a 63-yard field goal against the Denver Broncos in the regular-season opener.
“It means a lot,” Janikowski said of the six field goals. “There’s plenty more records to be broken.”
The one he wants most is the longest field goal in league history.
“I want 65, I want a 66-yarder,” Janikowski said. “I want to break the record.”
Lechler’s 80-yard punt early in the fourth quarter shattered the franchise record set by Wayne Crow (77 yards) in 1961 and equaled by Lechler earlier this year, also against the Broncos.
He said he knew he got all of the ball as soon as he made contact.
“Yes, as soon as it left my foot,” Lechler said. “It’s strange because sometimes you hit balls that feel real good and they don’t look good, but whenever you hit one perfect, you know it. And I hit it perfect. I’ve hit a lot of footballs in my life but that one’s probably top ten of ones I even hit in practice.”
HOME COOKING TASTES GOOD
The Raiders entered Sunday’s game on a two-game losing streak at home. They were 2-3 overall at the Coliseum and puzzled as to why they aren’t able to win as often here as on the road.
“It’s called confidence,” Jackson said. “There was two teams out there trying to bully each other, and they played hard. Credit to Chicago, they came in here, they don’t want to fall to 7-4, and we needed to get to 7-4. They played as well as they can play.”
The Raiders improved to 2-0 against NFC North teams, with games yet to play against the 11-0 Green Bay Packers and the 7-4 Detroit Lions in December.
THREE’S A CHARM
The Raiders notched their third straight victory Sunday. This marks only the second time the Raiders have won three straight games since 2002.
The other time came last season, when the Raiders rattled off victories over the Broncos, Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs in going from 2-4 to 5-4.
In the process, the Raiders are three games over .500 for the first time since 2002.
THE DROUGHT IS OVER
When running back Michael Bush bulled across the goal line for a 3-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter, that represented the first points scored by the Raiders in the fourth quarter since the Houston Texans game Oct. 9.
“We stopped a couple slides we had going,” Jackson said. “We’ve won at home now after losing two times (in a row) at home. We scored in the fourth quarter. OK, finally. So, we got a couple of things squared away.”
PENALTIES KEPT IN CHECK
Jackson has promised that he would get the penalties problem corrected at some point this season. On Sunday, the Raiders fared pretty well, with only six for 44 yards.
That’s far from perfect, but it’s also a far cry from the 10.3 they averaged the first 10 games for an average of 89.2 yards, both league-worst figures.
The Raiders have led the league in both categories from the first game. They had only one for 4 yards in the first half before slipping a tad in the final 30 minutes.
All in all, a marked improvement.
Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said he and his teammates heeded Jackson’s urging about eliminating “the boneheaded penalties.”
Louis Murphy led all Raiders wide receivers in receptions and receiving yards each of the past two seasons. He entered Sunday’s game with one reception for 23 yards.
That seemed like a distant memory when Murphy ran under a Carson Palmer pass late in the game and turned it into a 47-yard catch-and-run play.
Bush scored one play later to give the Raiders an insurmountable 25-13 lead. Murphy caught two passes for 53 yards overall.
“Oh, yeah, man, it felt really good,” Murphy said. “Felt good to get out there and make some plays, man, and help the team win. Been a long road coming this season, and just good to be back out there.”
Credit Jackson for calling a pass play on a third-and-four play late in the game, when the Raiders were trying to run out the clock.
Palmer said the Raiders set up the play with back-to-back runs to Bush, and the play was something that was installed earlier in the week.
“First and foremost, great call,” Palmer said. “Coach (Al) Saunders, coach Jackson, the timing of it. The looks we set up to get it were great. At that point in the game, just a great, ballsy call to pull out. Louis hasn’t had a bunch of catches all year. He knew that was something special for him in the package. He did a great job executing it.”
HESTER A NON-FACTOR
For the second straight time, the Raiders kicked to Hester a handful of times and lived to tell about it afterward.
Hester averaged only 2.3 yards on six punt returns and 17 yards on two kick returns when these teams last met in 2007. On Sunday, Hester managed 3.5 yards on two punt returns and 19.5 on two kick returns.
Johnny Knox posted the lone blemish on the Raiders coverage teams, when he busted loose on a kick he bobbled and rambled 56 yards.
Overall, the Raiders did an impressive job of outplaying the Bears special teams all the way around.
ODDS AND ENDS
Fullback Marcel Reece led the Raiders with five receptions for 92 yards. Wide receiver Chaz Schilens added four for 58 and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey tacked on four for 42.
Reece, Muphy and Schilens were called upon more than often because starting wide receivers Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford were sidelined with foot injuries.
Safety Tyvon Branch, linebackers Kamerion Wimbley and Rolando McClain and defensive tackle Richard Seymour recorded sacks of Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie.
Wimbley, Stanford Routt and safety Michael Huff notched interceptions. Wimbley’s came off a pass tipped by linebacker Aaron Curry. Wimbley returned the ball 73 yards and set up one of Janikowski’s field goals.
Follow me on Twitter: @corkonthenfl