The wait is over. After one year and 13 days, the Oakland Raiders finally won an AFC West game.
"It's been a long time since we won in our division," coach Mike White said after Monday night's 23-14 victory over the San Diego Chargers. "We have the toughest division in football. This was a real breakthrough for us, and now we have to keep on going from here."The Raiders (4-4) certainly have more momentum than San Diego (4-3). Oakland won its third straight game, knocked out San Diego quarterback Stan Humphries early and never gave the Chargers' struggling running game a chance to get going.
It is Oakland's first three-game winning streak since November, just before it went on an 0-6 nosedive that left it 8-8 and out of the playoffs. Monday's lose reversed not only a loss at San Diego during that 0-6 streak last year, but a 40-34 defeat to the Chargers at Oakland on Sept. 22.
"It feels really good to see our team coming out of a hole now," cornerback Albert Lewis said. "Everyone's very, very positive in here. I think we've matured to the point where I think we have learned to fight our way through adversity - like when we got a bad call when (the officials) said San Diego scored that touchdown."
Lewis was referring to Tony Martin's second TD catch of the night, a questionable call that pulled the Chargers to a 20-14 deficit. Martin didn't appear to reach the end zone, and was pulled away from the goal line by cornerback Larry Brown. However, an official made a delayed call that it was a score.
But the Raiders got a big break to wrap up the game when San Diego's Darrien Gordon muffed a fair catch with 3:53 left, and Dan Turk recovered. That set up Cole Ford's third field goal of the night, from 34 yards with 2:11 left.
Shutting down the run - the Chargers had only 29 yards on 20 carries - and the play of tackle Chester McGlockton were huge for Oakland.
"I think our defense was exceptional," White said. "I think Chester McGlockton probably had the best game I've seen him play as a Raider."
McGlockton disagreed, saying, " I don't think it was even close to my best game."
But McGlockton helped turn the game when he stuck his helmet into Humphries' back as the quarterback slid at the end of a 5-yard run late in the first quarter. Rob Fredrickson also hit Humphries, who sustained a minor dislocation of his left (non-throwing) shoulder.
"When you slide, you're supposed to be down," Humphries said. "I've seen things less than that be called."
Said McGlockton: "I was in my motion and I couldn't stop."
Chargers coach Bobby Ross didn't think it was a late hit. As for his quarterback's shoulder, "I don't think it looks good," Ross said.
The injury is similar to the one Humphries sustained in the last game of 1992. He was able to play the following week in a 17-0 wild-card playoff win over Kansas City.
Humphries said his status for Sunday's game at Seattle will depend on how the shoulder responds to treatment today and Wednesday.
Things got worse for San Diego.
Midway through the third quarter, linebackers Junior Seau and Kurt Gouveia collided helmet-to-helmet, and Seau was on the ground for several minutes. Both later returned, but the Chargers had a rookie and a second-year pro in their places as Derrick Fenner caught a short pass from Hostetler and worked his way through traffic for a 17-yard touchdown and a 17-7 lead with 8:02 left in the quarter.
Sean Salisbury played well in Humphries' stead, throwing two TD passes to Martin and finishing 22-of-35 for 252 yards with an interception. But Salisbury was also victimized by a big play that killed a Chargers scoring opportunity.
After Fenner's touchdown, Andre Coleman returned the kick 39 yards, and a penalty added 15 yards to the Oakland 41. Salisbury hit Martin for a 17-yard gain to the 24. But McGlockton came racing through on the next play and hit Salisbury as he prepared to hand off to Leonard Russell, jarring the ball loose. Pat Swilling picked it up and ran 49 yards to the Chargers 17.
TV replays appeared to show that McGlockton was offsides. But McGlockton said left guard Eric Moten was moving early.
"They snapped the ball and it worked out well for me," he said. A holding penalty on Steve Wisniewski and a sack by San Diego's Marco Coleman helped negate a roughing the passer call against Chris Mims, forcing the Raiders to settle for Ford's 32-yard field goal and a 20-7 lead.
Ford also had field goals from 36 and 32 yards, and Napoleon Kaufman scored untouched on a 12-yard run on Oakland's first drive.