Raiders' next challenge is ending road losing streak

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Defensive lineman Antonio Smith hadn’t had much time to relish the Oakland Raiders' third consecutive home win before questions came up about the team’s inability to match that success on the road.

It’s an issue that has haunted the club since 2011, and even a newcomer to the team like Smith realizes how much it’s hindered the Raiders’ ability to end what is now a 12-year playoff drought.

“That’s our biggest challenge right now,” Smith said. “That’s kind of our Achilles’ heel, to find that motivation that the Raiders fans give us here on away games, to take the energy out of the crowd of the home team and use it to our advantage.”

The Raiders are winless in seven road games this season and are just 2-21 since beating Kansas City in overtime 16-13 at Arrowhead Stadium on Dec. 24, 2011.

Oakland ends the 2014 campaign next Sunday in Denver with a chance to change that, though recent history isn’t exactly in the Raiders’ favor.

They’ve followed up each of the previous two wins with uninspiring losses on the road the following week.

After ending their winless start by upsetting Kansas City 24-20 in a nationally televised game in Week 12, the Raiders flopped in St. Louis and were trounced 52-0. Oakland bounced back from that to beat San Francisco but couldn’t keep the momentum going and got thumped by the Chiefs 31-13.

Why the Jekyll and Hyde performances?

Despite having veterans in key places, the Raiders are still a relatively young team that has had trouble overcoming the problems that crop up on the road, be it the earlier kickoff times to the deafening crowd noise in places like Kansas City, New England and Seattle.

In that way, they’re a lot like most teams in the NFL. But Oakland and Jacksonville are the only two of the league’s 32 teams to have not won on the road this year.

“We’ve got to learn how to take what we do here and go on the road and do it,” rookie quarterback Derek Carr. “We have to take that – the way we can play here against some really good football teams – and do that on the road. We need to learn how to do that and it’s something that we are learning to do. But it just hasn’t happened yet. Eventually we’ll get it right.”

Oakland has lost in its previous two trips to Denver. Prior to that, the Raiders had won four consecutive games in the Mile High city.

“We’re trying to change the culture and we are, so even though it’s not been how we want it to be, we know that if we keep fighting, keep working hard, eventually it’s going to get there,” Carr said. “Finishing out 3-0 at home, finishing out the way that we can, all those things are so important in building this franchise.”
If anything positive has come out of this miserable season for the Oakland Raiders, it's that some young players are emerging.

That’s been an issue in recent seasons for a franchise that hasn’t had a winning season since 2002. But as the Raiders are likely preparing for another leadership change, the team can hang its hat on having an intriguing trio of key, young players.

Quarterback Derek Carr, linebacker Khalil Mack and running back Latavius Murray keyed Oakland’s 26-24 win over Buffalo and knocked the Bills out of playoff contention. Oakland is now 3-12 and has won its final three home games of the season.

[+] EnlargeKhalil Mack
AP Photo/Jeff ChiuThe Raiders' Khalil Mack continued to show steady progress with five tackles on Sunday.
The strong finish is fantastic advertising for Oakland owner Mark Davis as he tries to attract a big-name coach. Of course, Davis' first target is expected to be San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh. He is expected to leave the 49ers after the season ends.

Harbaugh and any other candidates will surely like the makings of this roster, which is also going to have a top draft pick. Any team with hope at quarterback, running back and outside linebacker is a team that has something to work with.

All three players made their presence felt Sunday in the win over Buffalo.

Carr overcame a shaky start to lead a game-sealing touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Carr, who had two touchdown passes, has 20 for the season to go with 3,112 yards. He joins Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III as rookies who threw for 3,000 yards and 20 touchdown passes.

Think Harbaugh isn’t intrigued by the idea of working with Carr? Nothing can kick-start a franchise like a young stud quarterback. It makes everything better. And Oakland’s hope doesn’t stop with Carr.

Murray continued to show he has a chance to be a workhorse tailback. A sixth round pick in 2013 who missed his rookie season, Murray had 86 yards on 23 carries on Sunday. He had explosive runs of 25 and 17 yards. Murray, who is 6-foot-3, 228 pounds, looks to have a future because he runs hard and with a purpose. Oakland started to give him a chance in November, and he has responded with consistency.

Although the Oakland offense has a nice head start with Carr and Murray, Mack is doing his part to push the defense into the future. In fact, Mack is the best of the three at this point. The No. 5 overall pick had one of his best games of the season Sunday.

Mack had five tackles, his fourth sack and three quarterback hurries. He has gotten better as the season has gone on. There has been no rookie wall for this complete player.

He affects every aspect of the game. Along with St. Louis’ Aaron Donald and Baltimore’s CJ Mosley, Mack is a prime candidate for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He is the type of cornerstone player a good defense can be built around.

That’s what Sunday was all about for the Raiders. The future might not be so bleak.

Antonio Smith: Coliseum environment 'electric'

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Oakland Raiders' 26-24 victory Sunday over the Buffalo Bills:

  • Indications are owner Mark Davis intends to sign a one-year lease extension with Coliseum in the coming days while he continues his pursuit of a new stadium. Considering all three of the Raiders' wins this season have come at home, defensive lineman Antonio Smith believes it's important the team stays put. "We love playing in front of the best fans in the NFL," Smith said. "This is an electric environment. I think it radiates. I think it flows through us all. I hate to say it, because we do have to get better in road games, but we're a totally different team when we're in this stadium. You come in, you're going to get hit."
  • Charles Woodson said he wants to wait and see what happens with the Raiders coaching staff before deciding whether to come back for an 18th NFL season. The thing is, Woodson doesn't seem too worried about the head-coaching position. He's more concerned about assistant defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson, whom Woodson has repeatedly credited for his success this season. "Marcus Robertson has been a big help to me this year, man," Woodson said. "That's one of the things, depending on what happens with that guy. It would be hard to play under another guy. I hope he's back because he's done a tremendous job with myself, with the other guys in that room. And also [defensive backs coach] Joe Woods -- he's done a tremendous job. If I were to come back, I would want those guys back as well."
  • Sebastian Janikowski converted on four of his five field goal attempts, which guarantees he won't set the dubious franchise record for fewest tries in a season. Janikowski was perilously close to that before his big day against the Bills. He went into the game having attempted only 17 -- three shy of the record. It's the 19th game of his career in which Janikowski has made four or more field goals.
  • Offensive coordinator Greg Olson has been guilty of abandoning the run too early at times this season, but Oakland stuck to the game plan against Buffalo and piled up 140 yards on the ground. It's the second best day the Raiders have had running the ball this season and only the fourth time this year they've topped the 100-yard mark as a team. "You get those little runs, and the big runs will come," said running back Latavius Murray, who had 86 yards on 23 carries. "Obviously D-Mac [Darren McFadden] got in there, and the same thing. It was something we know we're capable of. We just have to go out there and do it. We did that today."


Rapid Reaction: Oakland Raiders

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
A few thoughts on the Oakland Raiders' 26-24 win over the Buffalo Bills:

What it means: Oakland is fighting to the end. The 3-12 Raiders closed out their home slate with three straight wins -- all over teams with winning records. The win also eliminated Buffalo from the playoffs.

Stock watch: Defense is up. The unit was very strong in this game. Oakland had a good pass rush, sacking Buffalo quarterback Kyle Orton twice and intercepting him twice. It was a big improvement from a rough outing in Kansas City in Week 15.

Busy day for kicker, punter: Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski booted four field goals of 45, 36, 38 and 49. Janikowski has made 19 of 22 field goal attempts this season. He has made six in the past two games. Punter Marquette King punted six times and has now punted 100 times this season. It’s a team record and just 14 off the NFL record for punts in a season.

Game ball: Linebacker Khalil Mack. The rookie outside linebacker had one of his best games of a strong season. He had five tackles including his fourth sack,and three quarterback pressures. Mack has avoided the rookie wall and keeps getting better.

What's next: The Raiders end the season Sunday at Denver. Oakland has followed each win with a loss this season. If Oakland wins Sunday, it will be 4-12 for the third straight
videoPITTSBURGH -- The best offensive player for the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday was an undrafted rookie wide receiver who a month ago wasn’t even a member of the playing rotation.

Nothing against Albert Wilson, who may have a bright future for the Chiefs. But they needed more if they were going to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers and maintain control of their playoff destiny.

But in the biggest game of their season, the Chiefs got little from a woeful offensive line, Jamaal Charles, Travis Kelce and Dwayne Bowe. They settled for four measly field goals and that wasn’t going to get it done against one of the league’s highest scoring teams.

The Chiefs lost 20-12 and now not only need to beat the San Diego Chargers in next week’s regular season finale at Arrowhead Stadium to get into the playoffs. They also are dependent on the kindness of strangers in the form of the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and, perhaps, New England Patriots.

Those are the respective opponents of the Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans and Buffalo Bills. A win by any of those teams knocks the Chiefs from playoff contention even if they beat the Chargers next weekend. The Chiefs wouldn’t need a Buffalo defeat if the Bills lost their late game on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.

“It completely changes things, for sure,’’ said quarterback Alex Smith, acknowledging the 8-7 Chiefs now need help to get into the postseason. “We’ve got a lot of character inside our locker room and I don’t think it will impact our preparation and how we go about things this week.’’

The Chiefs are in this uncomfortable predicament because they could muster little offense beyond the four field goals from rookie Cairo Santos. Kansas City had been a good team at scoring touchdowns while inside the opponents’ 20. It was second in the league heading into Sunday’s game at 67.5 percent.

The Chiefs were prevented from scoring a touchdown for the first time in their two seasons with Andy Reid as coach and Smith as quarterback. The Steelers choked them off all four times inside the red zone.

It was yet another symptom of an offense that needs plenty more punch. Longer term, the Chiefs need to address their shortcoming of playmakers through free agency and the draft.

But it’s too late for the Chiefs to do anything this season. Having a hapless offense endangers the Chiefs’ chances of merely doing their part to make the playoffs and beating San Diego next week. The Chargers statistically don’t have one of the NFL’s best offensive teams but they were good enough Saturday night with their playoff hopes on the line to put up 38 points and beat the San Francisco 49ers.

The Chargers, like the Chiefs, need to win next weekend in order to make the playoffs. So they will, no doubt, empty their bag of offensive tricks next Sunday knowing if they can get the score beyond a certain point, the Chiefs won’t be able to keep pace.

And what if the Chiefs do get into the playoffs? It seems ridiculous to suggest the Chiefs would be able to keep up with a scoring opponent like the Steelers or Colts.

The shame of it all is that the Chiefs’ defense did its part to limit Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense. For the most part, the defense held up its end of things this season.

The Chiefs on Sunday, and their season from the looks of things, were crushed by the weight of balky offense.
PITTSBURGH -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Kansas City Chiefs' 20-12 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field:
  • Charles
    Running back Jamaal Charles traded jerseys with his Pittsburgh counterpart, Le'Veon Bell, on the field after the game. Charles walked into the locker room after the game without his jersey. But he was carrying Bell's black No. 26 jersey.
  • The Chiefs no longer control their destiny with regard to making the playoffs. They need to beat San Diego next week at Arrowhead Stadium and get help in the form of favorable results from other games. "It completely changes it, for sure,'' quarterback Alex Smith said.
  • Coach Andy Reid said the intent of the failed fourth-down play late in the first half was to score a touchdown and not just give the Chiefs a fresh set of downs. "That's what we were trying to do," Reid said.
SAN DIEGO – Win and they are in.

The San Diego Chargers continued to receive good news after a dramatic come-from-behind victory against the San Francisco 49ers Saturday evening.

At 9-6, the Chargers are now tied with the Baltimore Ravens (9-6), who lost on Sunday to the Houston Texans. The Kansas City Chiefs (8-7) also lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5), which means all the Chargers need is a victory at Kansas City next Sunday to clinch the team’s second straight appearance in the postseason. The Steelers clinched a playoff berth with a win over the Chiefs.

San Diego is currently the No. 6 seed in the AFC wild-card race. The Chargers are 6-4 at Kansas City since 2004.

Oakland Raiders-Buffalo Bills inactives

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Here are the inactives for Sunday’s game between the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills:

Raiders: WR Denarius Moore, WR Vincent Brown, CB Chimdi Chekwa, G Tony Bergstrom, T Menelik Watson, TE Brian Leonhardt, DT Stacy McGee.

Bills: CB Ross Cockrell, RB Bryce Brown, LB Larry Dean, LB Randell Johnson, T Cyrus Kouandjio, WR Deonte Thompson, TE Chris Gragg.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- One player was a CFL standout who grinded to make the back end of the roster in August. The other rejoined the team two months ago as experienced depth at a position of need.

Receiver Dontrelle Inman and running back Ronnie Brown were unlikely contributors who made critical plays in Saturday's 38-35 comeback, overtime victory over the San Francisco 49ers that gave the San Diego Chargers a chance to continue chasing postseason dreams with just a week left in the regular season.

Inman, 25, was active for just the sixth time this season due to Keenan Allen being out with a broken collarbone. Inman’s work ethic has been noted in the past. He’s usually the last one to leave the practice field during the week, getting in extra work with Eddie Royal on pass routes and catches on the JUGS machine. That work paid off Saturday.

After seeing minimal playing time early on, Inman was placed in the starting lineup to open the second half. And he responded with seven catches for 79 yards. The most critical catch came on a curl route on fourth-and-10 from San Francisco’s 26-yard line with less than a minute left in regulation for a 17-yard gain. The play set up Malcom Floyd's 11-yard touchdown catch that tied the game at 35-all, sending the contest into overtime.

“You never knew when he was going to get an opportunity to play,” Chargers head coach Mike McCoy said. “But he’s a guy every day that shows up and works his tail off, and it paid off.”

Added Inman: “It’s awesome to have a Hall of Fame quarterback trusting you. You can’t ask for anything better.”

Brown rejoined the Chargers in October as added depth with Ryan Mathews out because of a knee injury. Needing someone to grind out yards to close out the game Saturday night, the 33-year-old runner finished with 33 yards on seven carries, including 22 on the final drive of the game to put the Chargers in field goal position for Nick Novak's 40-yarder for the win.

“He just leads in there,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said about Brown. “He does his scout team work and just says, ‘When y’all need me, I’ll be there.’ And he had two big catches on the drive for the touchdown, and then he obviously closed the game out the way he ran the ball.”

Brown said he was just fulfilling his role on this football team Saturday.

“It’s a game of opportunities,” Brown said. “When your number is called, you want to go out and do whatever you can do to try and make the team better in whatever your role is, and try to do it to the best of your ability. I try and keep that mindset. And that’s the character of this football team.”
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As DeMarcus Ware essentially dragged himself, willed himself really, through the 2013 season, his elbow hurt, his thigh hurt and sometimes his pride hurt.

"I just didn’t feel like myself," Ware said. "I tried to play, had some good moments, but the season didn’t go like I like seasons to go. I knew I had better in me."

So when the Dallas Cowboys released Ware last March, the profile was declining player coming off injury-filled season. But that is not what the Denver Broncos saw.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
AP Photo/Jack DempseyDenver has limited pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware's workload this year, and he has responded with one of the best seasons of his career.
The Broncos looked down the road, projected a healed, managed, Ware into their defense, where the quality of the snap count would trump quantity. As executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has put it; "We thought once he got healthy, and if we could put him in the situations where he could be his best, he had a lot of football left in him, a lot of football."

As the Broncos head down the stretch toward the postseason with Monday night’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the team has monitored how much football Ware plays and gotten his best because of it.

Fourteen games into the season, with what the Broncos hope are the biggest games still to be played, Ware has played 669 snaps on defense or 70.3 percent of the defensive plays. There are times on early downs, sometimes even on pass-rush downs, when Ware is on the sideline.

Quanterus Smith, who has played 279 snaps, or 29.3 percent of the defense’s plays thus far, is usually the one working in Ware’s defensive end spot as the Broncos pick their spots for their member of the 100-sack club.

The result has been that Ware, at 32 and in his 10th season, feels, and has played, as good as ever.

"I feel like this right here is probably at this time in my career the best I’ve ever felt," Ware said. "I don’t feel like there are any dings on my body where it’s prohibiting me from doing certain things. Every player gets out here and they’re sore or they’re tired -- that comes with football. But once you rehabilitate yourself and recoup during the week and feel 100 percent before each game, I’ve felt that way this year and it feels great."

The result has been 10 sacks to go with just the third interception of his career. The Broncos also hope it allows Ware to power his way down the stretch and in the playoffs.

Last season he had one sack over the Cowboys' last six games, and in 2012, when he finished with 11.5 sacks, he had 1.5 sacks over the last six games. Ware has one sack in the Broncos’ current four-game win streak -- it was against the Kansas City Chiefs.

"We use a lot of people," said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. "We want people to be in the best situations for us for what we need to get done ... We’re always going to have (Ware) in the best situations."

For Ware it’s all about playing in his first postseason game since the 2009 season, and all about trying to reach the title game for the first time in his career. Following the game in Cincinnati, the Broncos will close out the regular season in Denver against the Oakland Raiders, with Denver still clinging to a chance at home-field advantage in the AFC if the Broncos win both remaining regular-season games and the New England Patriots lose one of their last two games.

"Every game I feel like is a must-win game," Ware said. "You’ve got to think about it that way, because you want to go into the postseason on a high and motivated. You can look at a lot of teams around the league -- some of them are trying to get in, some of them are trying to get a berth or wild card or whatever it is. Every game you’ve got to play like it’s your last one."
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Players with bad backs and painful rib injuries aren't supposed to play like this.

San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers looked like a guy operating with injuries early. He threw two interceptions, including a pick-six, as his Chargers fell behind by three touchdowns against the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday night.

"In the first half it was just throw it to the other team and stand on the sideline, unfortunately," joked Rivers.

But something changed at halftime. Rivers said he got into a better rhythm in the second half. He felt healthier this week than last week after limiting his practice reps, and that renewed energy showed in a 38-35 overtime victory.

While not demonstrating the mobility of a track athlete like Colin Kaepernick, Rivers sidestepped the rush at times to buy time. And he showed better accuracy and more patience in letting his receivers work themselves open down the field.

"He's going to miss a throw," Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. "He's going to throw another interception at times in his career. But he's one of the best in the business. And we're very fortunate to have him here."

Rivers was especially precise on fourth down. The Chargers finished a perfect 3-for-3 on fourth-down conversions in the final half, including two on their game-tying drive to force overtime. San Diego entered the game 1-for-5 on fourth-down attempts, the worst conversion rate in the league this season.

On fourth-and-8 from San Francisco's 43-yard line, Rivers found Eddie Royal on an out route down the sideline that he scooped up for a 17-yard gain and a first down. Four plays later, Rivers stuck a throw in the chest of seldom-used receiver Dontrelle Inman on a curl route on fourth-and-10 from San Francisco's 26-yard line for a 17-yard gain.

Two plays later, Rivers hit Malcom Floyd on a slant route for an 11-yard touchdown to tie the game.

Rivers finished 33-of-54 for 356 yards, with four touchdown passes and three interceptions. He was sacked twice, posting an 82.0 passer rating. Rivers didn't play lights out, but he was surgical when the game mattered most.

The victory was Rivers' 19th fourth-quarter, come-from-behind career win.

"He gets into a rhythm, and you can't stop him," Chargers safety Eric Weddle said.

San Diego's defense also lived up to its end of the bargain. Yes, the Chargers gave up a ridiculous 355 yards on the ground, the second most in franchise history. But in the second half, San Diego limited the 49ers to seven points and forced two fumbles -- a strip sack by Ricardo Mathews and Dwight Freeney that Corey Liuget recovered for a score, and a forced fumble by Weddle that was recovered by Sean Lissemore -- leading to Nick Novak's game-winning 40-yard field goal.

"Top-five craziest games that I have ever been a part of in my career," Chargers outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "It was not by any stretch our best game, but we found a way to win, and that's all that matters now. It is awesome."

Just like last season, when the Chargers made their improbable postseason run, things are falling San Diego's way. They still need help, but if the Chargers can find a way to win on the road against Kansas City on Dec. 28, they could find themselves in the postseason for a second straight year.

Rivers won't allow himself -- or the rest of his teammates -- to look beyond Kansas City. Over the past 10 years, the Chargers are 6-4 at Arrowhead Stadium.

"First of all, we know what it is to go to Kansas City and win," Rivers said. "That's hard. But, if after that we found a way to win that one and it's not enough, then it's not enough. We have to make sure we hold up our end of it and find a way to get to 10-6. In most organizations they would say that's a pretty positive year."

Down early, Chargers believe big

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- A few takeaways from the San Diego Chargers' locker room after the team's 38-35 win over the San Francisco 49ers:

A confidence builder: To a man, San Diego players said even though they were down 28-7, the Chargers believed they could get back into the game against the 49ers.

"It was just, 'Let's play ball,'" Chargers cornerback Brandon Flowers said, when asked what players talked about at halftime. "They put up 28 points in the first half, and we were saying, Why can't we put up 28 points in the second half? As a defense, we know what Philip Rivers can do. We go against him in practice every day.

"We felt like it was our fault in the first half. So we needed to just get the ball back to Phil, and just leave it in his hands, and we'll be all right. We have all the confidence in the world in our offense, and they came through for us."

Novak on game winner: Chargers kicker Nick Novak said he and special-teams coordinator Kevin Spencer told coach Mike McCoy they felt confident making the winning field goal attempt about 40 yards out from that side of the field.

"It was good footing," Novak said. "There was no wind tonight. Usually there's quite a bit of wind in the stadium. It was really right in the middle. Everything went well and according to plan."

No plans for Chris Davis: I asked McCoy whether he thought about using rookie Chris Davis as a return guy on San Francisco kicker Phil Dawson's 60-yard field goal attempt at the end of regulation to win the game. Davis, of course, returned a missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown for the winning touchdown in the Iron Bowl for Auburn last year.

"Yeah, we talked about everything," McCoy said. "But we were doing some things there, getting King Dunlap in the game, and this and that. So there were a lot of things. I was just making sure we had 11 out there."

Injury update: Center Chris Watt (ankle), guard Johnnie Troutman (knee) and cornerback Shareece Wright (concussion) left the game with injuries and did not return. Melvin Ingram (hip) and Flowers (ankle) left the game but returned.

Rapid Reaction: San Diego Chargers

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- A few thoughts on the San Diego Chargers' 38-35, come-from-behind, overtime win over the San Francisco 49ers.

What it means: At 9-6, the Chargers need a win in the team’s final regular-season contest against the Kansas City Chiefs, along with one loss in the final two games by the Baltimore Ravens, to reach the postseason for a second straight year.

Impressive comeback: Trailing 28-7 at halftime, the Chargers forced overtime by scoring two touchdowns in the final 5:15, highlighted by Philip Rivers' 11-yard scoring pass to Malcom Floyd with 29 seconds left. Kicker Nick Novak hit a 40-yard field goal in overtime for the victory.

Gore, 49ers run wild: The Chargers allowed San Francisco to rack up 355 rushing yards. At 31-years old, running back Frank Gore looked like his younger self, as he bowled over San Diego’s defense for 158 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown run in the opening drive of the game. Gore became the second running back to rush for more than 100 yards against the Chargers this season. Denver Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman ran for 109 yards in Week 8. Colin Kaepernick also finished with 151 rushing yards, including a 90-yard run for a score -- the longest run given up by the Chargers this season.

Stock watch: Up -- Chargers inside linebacker Manti Te’o finished with a team-high 11 combined tackles, including his first career sack, in playing against an athletic quarterback in Kaepernick and the hard-running Gore.

Game ball: Playing with an ailing back and chest, Rivers overcame three interceptions by throwing for 356 yards and four touchdowns.

What’s next: The Chargers hit the road for the team’s final regular-season game against AFC West rival Kansas City at 1 p.m. ET Dec. 28.
The Oakland Raiders have put cornerback Tarell Brown on the injured reserve list. He has a foot issue.

Brown, who signed a one-year deal with Oakland in 20104 from Bay Area rival San Francisco, started all 14 games this season. Brown is the 14th player Oakland has put on the injured reserve this season. He is the 10th defensive player to be put on the injured reserve and sixth defensive starter shelved due to injury for the 2-12 Raiders.

The Raiders promoted linebacker Spencer Hadley from the practice squad to take Brown’s spot on the 53-man roster.

W2W4: San Diego Chargers

December, 20, 2014
Dec 20
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The San Diego Chargers (8-6) travel to the Bay Area to face the San Francisco 49ers (7-7) in a nationally televised contest at 8:25 p.m. ET at Levi’s Stadium.

Here are three things we’ll be watching for on Saturday.

1. Get off to a fast start: The Chargers have not scored a point in the opening quarter of the past two games, both losses. Wrestling control of the game by getting some points on the opening drive on offense is important for San Diego on the road this weekend. The Chargers are 4-1 this season in games when they led at the end of the first quarter.

2. Run the ball with authority: The Chargers have not rushed for more than 100 yards as an offense in the past three games, and they are 1-2 in those contests. San Francisco’s defense has given up an average of 131 rushing yards a contest in the team’s past three games -- all losses. San Diego can’t expect Philip Rivers to sling the ball 40 times with an ailing back and chest in order to move the football. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich has to figure out a way to generate a consistent run game in order to protect Rivers. That is especially true without receiver Keenan Allen available.

3. Make Kaepernick play from within the pocket: Opposing defenses this season have done a good job of keeping San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick from breaking containment, making him complete passes from inside the pocket. Kaepernick has an 84.1 passer rating and has not thrown a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. He has yet to post a rushing touchdown after finishing with four last season. The Chargers have to stay disciplined in their rush lanes defensively, and not allow Kaepernick to gain confidence by making plays with his feet.