Oakland Raiders Vault: The Streak Ends, 2010

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Sep 30, 2014; Alameda, CA, USA; General view of Oakland Raiders helmet and Lombardi trophies from Super Bowl XI, XV and XVIII during a press conference at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, the Raiders face their first division opponent of the 2014 campaign when they take on the Chargers in Oakland. The Raiders are still looking for their first win of the year and are coming off a bye week with a new interim head coach in Tony Sparano. The Chargers, meanwhile, come into the game on a four game win streak, their only loss on the season being a one-point loss to the Cardinals in Arizona. San Diego have won four of the last five against the Raiders, and Vegas has the Chargers as safe 7-point favorites on Sunday.


When the Raiders met the Chargers on October 10th, 2010 (four years ago today as of the time of this writing), the Chargers win streak against the Raiders was vastly more ominous than four of five. The Chargers had won THIRTEEN consecutive meetings, a streak that dated back to 2003, when the Raiders had won their first meeting of the season in an overtime thriller in which Rich Gannon had led the team back from a 14-point 4th quarter deficit against the Drew Brees-led Chargers. San Diego would beat an evicerated Raders team in the second meeting of that season, and go on to pummel the Raiders year in and year out as the Raiders struggled through seven consecutive seasons of losing eleven or more games.  The games often weren’t even close: a 31-14 thumping on Halloween Day, 2004. A 34-10 rout late in the 2005 season. A 27-0 shutout in Oakland to start the 2006 season. Some games were tightly contested, like the Monday Night matchup to start the 2009 season that ended in a 24-20 Chargers win in a cloud of controversy over a call that took away an apparent Darrius Heyward-Bey touchdown reception.

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The Raiders began the 2010 season in all-to-familiar fashion under coach Tom Cable, the one-time interim coach who was now in his second full year as the Raider head coach. Oakland started 1-3, including a narrow loss to Arizona on a missed Sebastian Janikowski field goal.  To make matters worse, the Raiders passing offense had been so inept that Jason Campbell had been pulled in favor of journeyman Bruce Gradkowski halfway through a week 2 win against the Rams. Gradkowski came into the game against the Chargers completing 55% of his passes with 4 TD’s and 4 INT’s, coming off his best performance of the season in a loss against the Texans. Darren McFadden had turned in three very strong performances to start the season before getting hurt against Houston, and was out for the Chargers game, meaning the big backup running back Michael Bush would need to carry the load.  So with Bruce Gradowski at quarterback, Michael Bush at running back and a receiving corps anchored by Darrius Heyward-Bey, Louis Murphy and Zach Miller, the Raiders lined up against the 2-2 Chargers led by Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates.

The Game

The Raiders would need to find creative ways to score with a struggling offense, and on the very first series of the game they did exactly that. After forcing the Chargers to a three and out on their first series, special teams ace and backup running back Rock Cartwright blocked the Mike Scifres punt, causing the ball to bounce out of bounds, resulting in a safety.  Just one minute into the game, and the Raiders had taken a 2-0 lead over the Chargers, much to the delight of the home crowd. Cartwright’s blocked punt also inspired the 48,000-strong crowd at the Oakland Coliseum, an emotional energy that continued to increase as the Raider offense took the field after the ensuing free kick and immediately moved the ball into field goal range, allowing Janikowski to hit a 50-harder and push the lead to 5-0. While 5-0 leads aren’t exactly safe, it was enough to get the crowd in full throat as the Chargers offense took over again at their own 20, and an invigorated defense again held the Charger offense to a three and out, forcing another punt from deep in their own territory.

Lightning struck twice on the ensuing punt by Mike Scifres: backup tight end Brandon Myers blocked the punt, and safety Hiram Eugene picked it up and strolled the remaining five yards to pay dirt – touchdown Raiders. Now five minutes into the game, the Raiders had blocked two punts, and had built a 12-0 lead with every single point coming courtesy of the Raider special teams unit.

The Charger offense got the ball back determined not to go three and out again, and launched an epic drive in which Philip Rivers completed all five of his passes for 65 yards, including two big completions on 3rd downs, both coming at the expense of All-Pro corner Nnamdi Asomugha. With two minutes left in the first quarter, the Chargers had 3rd and Goal at the Raider 1-yard line and seemed poised to close the gap when fullback Mike Tolbert took a handoff inside and had the ball punched out by linebacker Ricky Brown. Second-year safety Mike Mitchell grabbed the loose ball and returned it 12 yards to the Raider 14 yard line.  A three and out series – featuring two incomplete passes by Gradkowski – moved the ball out to the 20, where Shane Lechler came on and crushed a 63 yard punt that was returned by Darren Sproles to the Chargers 28: a 52 yard net.

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  • Philip Rivers got the ball back with less than 2 minutes to go in the first and seemed determine to get his Chargers back in the game, hitting a 55-harder to Malcolm Floyd against Stanford Routt that wiped out the Lechler punt and then some. Two plays later, the Raider defense came through again: Matt Shaughnessy strip-sacked Rivers and rookie DE Lamarr Houston recovered, giving the Raiders the ball back again at their own 19 yard line, still leading 12-0. With 22 seconds remaining in the first, just for good measure, the Raiders ran a wacky play of their own: a sequence in which Gradkowski apparently fumbled while being sacked by Shaun Phillips and the fumble was returned by Antwan Applewhite to the Raiders 4. Tom Cable challenged the call, resulting in the play being overturned and the fumble being ruled an incomplete pass due to the fact that Gradkowski’s arm was coming forward when the ball came out. Gradkowski was injured on the play, and Jason Campbell came in to replace him. After two blocked punts, two fumbles, a 50-yard field goal, a 63-yard punt, and a couple of deep passes by Philip Rivers, the crazy first quarter came to an end with the Raiders holding a 12-0 advantage despite having gained only 28 yards of offense on nine plays, and completing only one pass and picking up only one first down.

    After Michael Bush picked up 14 yards on a 3rd and 15 run play to start the second quarter, Lechler hit another huge punt that netted 49 yards after the Sproles return and Philip Rivers went back to work.  After gashing the Raiders throughout the first quarter only to turn the ball over twice in the end zone, Rivers was able to finish on his first possession of the second: on an 8-play, 77 yard drive, Rivers was 5 of 6 for 74 yards, including a 19-yard scoring strike to Antonio Gates. The Raiders lead had shrunk to 12-7 with ten minutes left in the half, and it looked like the first quarter magic had ended and reality was back. The Raider secondary had no answer for Philip Rivers and his group of receivers. Things would begin to look more grim as the second quarter continued.

    After another Raider three-and-out, Shane Lechler hit another solid punt that was fair caught by Darren Sproles at the 19 yard line, and the Raider defense forced a Charger three-and-out.  On the ensuing punt, Raider linebacker Sam Williams, trying to get the Raiders third blocked punt of the game, was flagged for running into the kicker, giving the Charger offense new life near mid-field. Rivers then went 3-3 for 49 more yards, and the Chargers capped off the drive with a 4-yard run by Tolbert: Chargers 14, Raiders 12, with 4:49 to go in the first half. A once excited crowd fell silent. The ghosts of 13 straight had reared their heads.

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  • After a Jacoby Ford kick return brought the ball out to the 33-yard line, the Raider offense started their next drive by giving up a sack to Kevin Burnett.  Two plays later, Jason Campbell would hit Zach Miller for an 18-yard gain on 3rd and 14 to keep the drive alive. Two plays later, Campbell would fumble the ball on a strip sack on 3rd down, only to have guard Daniel Loper scoop up the loose ball and roll on the ground for a three-yard gain, bringing up 4th and 1 at the Chargers’ 44. Tom Cable, equal parts aggressive and desperate, decided to go for it, handing the ball to Michael Bush for a nine-yard gain that gave the Raiders offense new life at the two-minute warning. On the first play after the warning, Campbell hit Bush for a 16 yard gain to get the ball inside the red zone. Campbell would pick up another six yards on a scramble to bring the ball down to the 12, but after an incomplete pass, the Raiders settled for a 30-yard Janikowski field goal with less than a minute to go, putting the Raiders back on top 15-14.

    The Chargers refused to go into the locker room losing to the Raiders: a 6-play drive (Rivers was 2-2 for 48 yards), helped by an illegal contact penalty on Chris Johnson on 3rd down, put the Chargers in position for a Nate Kaeding field goal. At the half, the Chargers led, 17-15, after one of the wildest first halves of football many watching had ever seen. The Raider offense had been nearly inept aside from the final drive of the half, and all 15 Raider points had been scored by the Special Teams. Philip Rivers, meanwhile, had been eviscerating the Raider secondary, moving the ball with ease, and had managed to make up for the early turnovers and special teams miscues and take a halftime lead.

    Raider fans had seen this movie too many times before: a solid early performance eventually being for naught in the face of inept offense and uninspired defense.  It was looking like this Raiders-Chargers matchup may go that way in the second half…