*What a comeback! Derek Carr found Michael Crabtree in the end zone after time already expired in the fourth quarter to lead the Raiders to a spectacular 31-30 comeback win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday Night Football. *
Here's what we learned from the game:
- Oakland was one wild final drive away from watching its season officially go up in flames. Thanks to a pair of Jared Cook catches and a great rollout and dart fired from Derek Carr to Michael Crabtree in the end zone after time had already expired in the fourth quarter, Oakland's faithful can remain excited about this team's playoff chances. The Raiders' final drive wasn't pretty, but instead matched much of the night for its offense, which still has plenty of issues. Carr needed all four downs near midfield to keep the team alive on a completion to Cook, and then turned to the tight end to make another great catch on third-and-10 to put Oakland inside Kansas City's 5. Unlike Detroit earlier this season, Oakland survived the 10-second runoff to get one more shot at the end zone, which turned into four thanks to penalties, with the final attempt being the one that tied the game. Giorgio Tavecchio then kicked the extra point to give the Raiders the win.
It was exciting, it made for great television, but it is far from encouraging for an Oakland team that still has plenty of kinks to work out in the coming week. Most important in this moment and time, though, is that it keeps the Raiders out of the wasteland that is 2-5, which keeps them alive.
- Alex Smith is blemish-free through seven games. We're at 228 pass attempts and the quarterback still hasn't thrown an interception -- though he should have:
Smith is just 130 more interception-free attempts from tying Tom Brady's record, set in the final weeks of the 2010 season. He's done just about as much as he could through seven games to have his team emerge undefeated, but two straight contests in less than a week's time have his team suddenly on a two-game skid. One of the losses came against Pittsburgh, the lone team to have Kansas City's number in the last year and change, and this second required all kinds of shenanigans for it to not end in the Chiefs' favor. There is one mildly alarming note, though: Kansas City's defense played well enough to win, forcing Oakland into a three-and-out deep in its own territory inside the final five minutes, but the Chiefs' offense didn't hold up its end of the deal. The one sack Kansas City allowed all night -- and make no mistake, Khalil Mack alone caused plenty of headaches for their tackles in pass protection -- buried the Chiefs and forced them to punt it back to the Raiders, setting up the game-winning drive. As an offense, you have to salt away the win just by moving the chains in that situation.
- The numbers were pretty similar between Smith (25-of-36 passing, 342 yards, three touchdowns) and Carr (29-of-52 passing, 417 yards, three touchdowns), but the trajectories of their seasons couldn't be more different. Smith has had Kansas City firing on all cylinders, and for spaces in time on Thursday night, that was again the case. His 64-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill was something we'd grown accustomed to seeing last season and early this year and was a welcome return for the Chiefs, as was the 63-yard touchdown pass to Wilson, even if it should have been intercepted. Oakland has slogged through the first six weeks of the season, both with and without Carr. Last week's loss to the Chargers was just the latest example of the frustration surrounding the Raiders' offense, which was visibly affected by less-than-stellar play from Carr. But on Thursday night, his deep shots panned out in his favor (Amari Cooper's first score came with plenty of initiated contact) most times, especially when needed most. This isn't to say everything is suddenly fine in Oakland -- but it's better than the alternative.
- For as flashy as Oakland's offense was in its two touchdown passes to Cooper, the majority of the rest of its night was all too familiar. Too often, the Raiders worked themselves into third-and-long situations, often brought on by penalties in what was a chippy affair. It was never more apparent than when Oakland regained possession inside its own 10 and promptly went three-and-out, punctuated by Carr throwing a short pass to Amari Cooper with Cordarrelle Patterson running almost the exact same route from almost the exact same starting point on the field. That kind of mistake -- it would be shocking if that play was designed as it was ultimately executed -- was Oakland's offense in a nutshell. Even the winning drive felt muddied, and as Around The NFL's Gregg Rosenthal tweeted, Carr easily could have turned the ball over three of four times, but escaped with none.
- Marshawn Lynchwas ejected, but quite frankly, that didn't matter much anyway. As some of us have already known, Oakland's best back isn't Lynch -- it's Jalen Richard. The Raiders started to show they also know this, giving Richard nine carries for 31 yards and targeting him four times for four catches and 45 yards, and doing almost the exact same thing with DeAndre Washington (nine carries, 33 yards; three receptions on four targets, seven yards). The two as a combo work better than Lynch, which at this point is evident to most anyone who watches the Raiders. Though Oakland could have used him on the first of the final plays inside Kansas City's 5, Lynch's ejection only expedited the inevitable.
- It might not help Raider Nation sleep at night, but Thursday night was just the latest example of how freakishly dominant Khalil Mack is. The linebacker didn't record a sack, but tormented Kansas City's left and right tackles, Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, for much of the night. A one-armed rush threw Fisher off balance and landed him on his back, while Schwartz didn't fare much better. Combined with Bruce Irvin, Mack alone (and the addition of NaVorro Bowman, who tied for the team lead in tackles with six) is reason to be encouraged about the Oakland defense.
- Even with the two-game losing streak, there isn't much to panic about for the Chiefs, unless they run into a team built on passing prowess. Without Eric Berry, Kansas City's secondary has showed some issues, especially in relying on Terrance Mitchell, who was beaten a handful of times on sideline-destined routes. This point is not meant to closely critique any individual player, because Kansas City's defense still pressured Carr plenty and stood firm more often than not. That final drive became more difficult to stop with each play, especially with the repeated shots at the end zone. You can only keep a hungry group on the doorstep for so long before they barge their way in.
- The lone reason to truly be discouraged is Kansas City's missed opportunity to take a vice grip on the AFC West. Had the Chiefs won, they would have improved to 6-1, a full three wins ahead of Denver with the Broncos' Week 7 game yet to be played, while sending Oakland to the cellar at 2-5. Instead, they're at 5-2, and can be ahead of Denver by as little as half a game should the Broncos beat the Chargers on Sunday. Another opportunity awaits Kansas City next week in a home game against Denver, which for the Chiefs will be an agonizing, 11-day wait from now.