SAN DIEGO – This is why the Raiders traded for Carson Palmer.
This is why no one trusts that the San Diego Chargers will ever live up to expectations.
In an entertaining and unpredictable start to what could be a spectacularly wild second half in the AFC West, the Oakland Raiders took ownership of the division by setting the tone offensively and defensively against a home San Diego team that can only be described as floundering.
In the process, the Raiders raised their record to 5-4 and are now alone in first place in the AFC West. San Diego has lost four consecutive games and is spinning out of control at 4-5. The Kansas City Chiefs are 4-4 and host the 3-5 Denver Broncos on Sunday. If the Chiefs beat the Broncos, who beat Oakland last week, they will be technically ahead of Oakland, owing to Kansas City's victory over the Raiders in Week 7.
This game had the feel of two teams scrambling to stay alive.
The reality of the three-way tie in the division was that no team had established itself as a quality squad, nor had any team showed that it was ready to be anything but first-round playoff fodder for stronger AFC competition come January.
Oakland had lost consecutive divisional games at home by a total of 42 points and, with a rusty Palmer and without star running back Darren McFadden, was lacking an identity on offense.
San Diego entered the game losers of three in row, games they could have easily won and in which Rivers made crucial mistakes.
The Raiders made necessary adjustments in a short week. The Chargers added to their misery.
“It had a feel of a desperate game,” Oakland defensive lineman Richard Seymour said. “We talked all week about just letting it go and doing whatever we could to get this win.”
The Raiders followed a formula they have used against San Diego for the past three years — they punched them in the mouth and controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, the Raiders used a beautiful combination of Palmer converting key long passes and McFadden caddie Michael Bush jamming the ball down the Chargers’ throats. Bush, one of the best backups in the NFL, had 157 yards rushing on 30 carries. He had 78 yards on13 carries in the first quarter.
Thursday night represented a return of the Oakland offense that was clicking so well in the first six games, before former starting quarterback Jason Campbell broke his collarbone. In the first six quarters of the Palmer era -- Oakland acquired him from Cincinnati, two days after Campbell was hurt, in exchange for two premium draft picks -- Oakland’s offense was out of sorts.
They couldn’t run like the NFL's best running attack, and Palmer looked just like what he was -- a guy coming off his couch after a nine-month layoff, with completely new teammates.
If Thursday night’s crisp offensive showing by Palmer and the Oakland offense is any indication of things to come, the Raiders must be considered the favorites to win the West for the first time in nine years.
You have to think Palmer will keep getting better as he continues to practice with his stable of new, young receivers.
“I like what he is bringing to our team,” Seymour said. “We needed another leader and you can see the affect he is having on the young guys. … It’s good to have him here.”
Palmer threw for 299 yards and made some terrific passes when needed most. He did commit two turnovers -- he has eight in 10 quarters with the Raiders -- but he clearly is getting on track in Oakland. He and rookie receiver Denarius Moore connected five times for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Palmer was 4-for-4 on passes of 21-plus yards for 146 yards on Thursday night. The late Al Davis would be proud of the new Oakland quarterback, who showed his arm is still a top weapon.
“What he is doing is phenomenal,” Oakland coach Hue Jackson said of Palmer.
While the season's second half started on the right track for Oakland, San Diego is mired in problems. As the Raiders' offense dominated the Chargers' defensive front, the Oakland defensive line did the same to the battered San Diego line, which played much of the game without three starters.
Four days after being humiliated by the Tim Tebow option runaway train, Oakland teed off on Rivers. He was sacked six times and it was an Oakland jailbreak on nearly every play. Oakland linebacker Kamerion Wimbley had four sacks himself. He said the constant pressure took a “toll” on Rivers.
“We knew it was on us,” Seymour said. “We wanted to get in Rivers’ face on every play.”
It worked. Now, Rivers has to face the fact that his team is no longer that 4-1 squad in need of a wee bit of tweaking, but rather under .500 and leaking oil fast. After the game, Rivers, who threw another fourth-quarter interception Thursday, again had no answers for the problems.
Rivers and San Diego had better figure out something soon, or this once-perennial Super Bowl contender is going to be on the outside looking in come January for the second consecutive year and potentially facing major changes in the offseason.
Oakland has already endured major change during this season, and it is starting the stretch run better for it.