Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers throws a pass in the first half against the San Francisco 49ers on September 30, 2018 at the StubHub Center in Carson, California. Photo by Lori Shepler/UPI | License Photo
Bursting with optimism following their first win of the season, the Oakland Raiders visited the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday with hopes of showing that a new coaching staff and franchise quarterback have the potential to manage a miracle comeback in the NFL's race for the 2018 playoffs.
And they did exactly that, although that team, coaching staff and franchise quarterback played for the Chargers.
Los Angeles outplayed, outcoached and outhustled Oakland, 26-10, to the disappointment of Raiders fans, who were the vast majority of those in attendance at Carson's StubHub Center.
The Chargers' franchise quarterback, Philip Rivers, did what he usually does to the Raiders, hitting 22-of-27 passes for 339 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for his 17th career win over his in-state rivals.
That's more victories over the Raiders than any other quarterback, of which the franchise has faced many Hall of Famers.
"He's amazing, isn't he?" Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. "He's a great player. Great player, great competitor. He and [offensive coordinator] Ken Whisenhunt, they have been working together for a while and they've got a pretty good handle on what they're doing."
Rivers had significant help from a slow-footed Raiders defense that compounded that issue with an inability to tackle. So, Chargers running backs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler combined for 179 total yards with one touchdown rushing (Gordon) and one receiving (Ekeler).
The Chargers ended the day at 3-2, retaining hopes of getting back into the playoffs, which isn't a stretch because they almost did it last season, rallying from a 0-4 start to finish 9-7 under new head coach Anthony Lynn.
The Raiders fell to 1-4 and, coupled with Sunday's performance, there is almost no hope of the team competing for anything except a high draft pick. This wasn't supposed to happen in the first season of the return of Gruden, of whom much is expected based on his 10-year, $100 million contract he received.
Gruden has lost eight of his last nine games as an NFL head coach. That counts the previous week's overtime victory over the Cleveland Browns (45-42) in rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield's debut as a starter and four losses in 2008 that ended his stay in Tampa Bay.
In between coaching jobs he was the darling of TV broadcasting, dispensing opinions with a balance of wit and humor while never losing a game in about nine years. In his first year back as an NFL head coach, Gruden is still a charmer, but his wit is losing credibility and there is no humor in all this for Raider Nation, especially those who live in the Bay Area and want to see the team revived before it leaves for Las Vegas.
As for the franchise quarterback thing, Mayfield showed potential to be one even in losing and Rivers was all that and more.
But the jury remains out on Oakland's Derek Carr, whose status was supposedly sealed in 2017 when he signed a five-year contract worth up to $125 million. Since banking that loot, Carr's win-loss record as a starter is 7-13 and his career record is 29-38.
The evidence is piling up against Carr, who threw an interception in the end zone for the third time in five games and is tied for the league lead with a total of eight interceptions.
His first two end-zone interceptions were the result of underthrown passes.
With the Chargers leading 20-3, the Raiders had a first-and-goal on the 1-yard line. The Raiders lined up with three tight ends and Carr faked a handoff to Marshawn Lynch. Carr kept the ball and saw tight end Derek Carrier, apparently beating man coverage by safety Adrian Phillips along the back of the end zone. But as Carr threw, defensive end Melvin Ingram III dropped straight back in the middle of the end zone and the ball went right to him.
"We haven't thrown the ball in a goal-to-go situation all year," Gruden said. "It was first-and-goal, the decision there was to throw it. If it isn't open, you throw it away. It didn't work out."
"It's tough," Carr said. "I wasn't trying to force it or anything like that. I saw a guy win [against his man] and tried to throw it to him. But they made a play, and that was the one I wish I had back today."
The fact that they decided to throw is debatable. Lynch, a decoy on this play, was famously ignored in Super Bowl XLIX when Seattle was on the 1-yard line and opted to throw, which resulted in an interception by the Patriots. After Sunday's interception, he was obviously agitated and threw his helmet.
"I done seen it happen to me on the game's biggest stage," Lynch told ESPN. "Now it's happened in a regular-season game. It's alright, though."
Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley used the versatile talents of Ingram and rookie safety Derwin James to foil the Raiders' ability to dictate matchups, their favorite ploy in the passing game. Ingram finished with seven tackles, one sack and the interception. James had five tackles and was all over the field.
In Carr's defense, the offense Sunday was not the same as the one that went into the game No. 2 in the NFL with 441.8 yards per game, but then managed only 289.
Right tackle Donald Penn went on injured reserve (groin). Rookie third-round draft pick Brandon Parker made his first start and fared well.
The Raiders' offensive line seemed to be hurt more by the loss of injured left guard Kelechi Osemele, who was replaced by Jon Feliciano, a fourth-year pro. He and rookie left tackle Kolton Miller did not seem to sync up well. Miller did well until Sunday, when he gave up three sacks while playing with a right knee injury.
The Raiders leave for London Thursday and will play the Seattle Seahawks Sunday. After beating the 49ers and Raiders back-to-back, the Chargers visit the Cleveland Browns next.