The Raiders take on the Texans this weekend in Houston. The last time the Silver and Black played in this venue versus the Texans was October 9, 2011. If you’re a Raiders fan, you will never forget the day before the game and you will never forget the game itself, the most emotional regular season game in team history.
It was the first time since January 1963 the organization didn’t have the man who is the Raiders, the iconic Al Davis, in some capacity. Davis is the only member of the NFL Hall of Fame to have been an assistant coach, head coach, general manager, owner and commissioner.
The Raiders led a back and forth game 25-20 with seven ticks left on the clock, the Texans had the ball at the Oakland five-yard line. Two plays before, Houston had converted an impossible third and 23 from the Raiders 39. Texans quarterback Matt Schaub spiked the ball to stop the clock.
The Raiders heads were spinning from an emotionally wrecked 24 hours - the players, the coaches, anyone associated with the organization who had made the trip. The team had flown in on Friday. On Saturday morning then-head coach Hue Jackson informed the team that Davis had passed away at the age of 82.
The voice of the Raiders Greg Papa had been working early Saturday morning in his hotel room in Houston when he received the news.
“On Saturday, I think everyone just felt numb,” Papa said. “There were reporters in the lobby trying to get a comment, everyone tried to block it out the best they could.”
On Sunday before the game, Jackson addressed the team, saying the best way to honor Al Davis would be to play the way he would have been proud of and above anything just win.
“For the players, I think they just internalized it because they were so close to the game,” Papa said. “It was a surreal time. The most difficult game I’ve ever done. Having to say those words, he’s gone, I didn’t know how to say it.”
Without much time to process their emotions, the Raiders did what Al Davis would have wanted them to do...just win, baby.
The stat sheet told a story of Texans dominance. Houston had more yards in the game 473 to 278, committed nearly half as many penalties, had 10 more first downs and nearly 10 minutes more in the time of possession column.
The Raiders would go three and out on their first possession, the Texans would take the ball down the field the first time they touched the ball and led 7-0 midway through the first quarter. The Raiders would pull to within 14-12 by the half and take their first lead 15-14 at the 5:12 mark of the third quarter. Houston battled back with a field goal near the end of the third to lead 17-15 going into the final quarter. The Raiders would reel off 10 straight points to lead 25-17. The Texans answered with a field goal to cut the deficit to 25-20, setting up the Texans final drive.
1:50 left on the clock. The Texans had the ball at their own 37, down five. It was one of those rare games where Raiders fan or not, everyone who wasn’t associated with the Texans wanted Oakland to win for Al. When you cover teams for as long as I have, your rooting interest goes out the door. You like to see the local teams do well because it means not only does the hard core fan listen more to your radio show but it invites the casual fan as well. In other words, it’s good for business. On this day though, I had never been as emotionally invested as I was at the start of this drive. I wanted the win for the Raiders family. They deserved it, they needed it.
The Texans were trying to start a season 4-1 for the first time in franchise history and Schaub had engineered 10 career fourth quarter game-winning drives. With the draining emotion of the weekend, I had serious doubts if the Raiders had enough in the tank. Houston was still seen as an NFL newbie, they joined the league in 2002 and the franchise hadn’t quite gotten over the top as a playoff contender at that point. They couldn’t care about what the Raiders family was going through, they were fighting for franchise respect. There’s no time for pity in the NFL.
Here is how the final nerve racking drive went down:
1st and 10 (Houston 37) 1:50 Schaub in shotgun, pass short right to RB Arian Foster for 11 yards, tackle by DE Jarvis Moss. The elite RB Foster was split wide right as a receiver, caught the screen and darted through five would be tacklers to get the drive off to a solid start for Houston, almost to midfield, clock running.
1st and 10 (Houston 48) 1:29 Houston in no huddle. Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly sacked Matt Schaub right up the middle back at Texans 35, former Texans guard, current Raiders guard
1st and 10 (Houston 48) 1:22 Schaub passes to WR Kevin Walter for 26 yards. Walter was wide open in the middle of the field, the Raiders were in a deep zone, safety Jerome Boyd came up to make the tackle.
1st and 10 (Oakland 41) 1:00 Schaub dropped back and underthrew receiver Jacoby Jones on the left side. However Raiders defensive tackle Richard Seymour hit Schaub late and at the knees for a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty. It was the Raiders 11th penalty of the day, the Texans committed only six.
At this point, nerves are frayed. The Raiders had gone from a potential sack back at the Houston 35, to 41 yards given up in two plays.
1st and 10 (Oakland 26) :54 Texans center Chris Myers snaps the ball high and to Schaub’s right, he can’t handle it and has to fall on the ball back at the Raiders 41, he’s covered by LB Kamerion Wimbley and DE
2 and 23 (Oakland 39) :40 Schaub in shotgun formation. He’s chased by Lamarr Houston, scrambles right and throws incomplete to Arian Foster.
3rd and 23 (Oakland 39) :29 With Wimbley closing in from the right side and Moss closing in the middle, Schaub fires an off balance pass down the middle of the field between three Raiders. It finds the hands of TE Joel Dreessen who catches the ball and is driven down by Boyd at the Raiders five-yard line. The clock ticks. Schaub and the Texans offense race down field and spike the ball with seven seconds left on the clock. Dan Fouts, who is on the call for CBS calls the pass, “a Hail Mary that is answered by Dreessen.” The ball seemed to hang in the air forever. White jerseys were everywhere, but somehow the ball snuck in.
I’m almost resigned to the fact the emotion of the last 24 hours, just drained the Raiders too much. This isn’t the movies. The guys who deserve to win don’t always win in real life. The guys in silver and black looked tired and spent. The team in blue had the home crowd cheering them more loudly than ever, imploring them to win, they had overwhelming momentum.
1st and 10 (Oakland 5) :08 Matt Schaub spiked the ball.
The final play. 2nd and 10 (Oakland 5) :06.
Papa told me what he was thinking before the final play.
“The defense’s inability to make a play has and had been a problem since I joined the Raiders, they just couldn’t get that stop,” Papa said. “In my mind, this was the ultimate finale for him. To have it come down to the defense making a play. It was the perfect ending to that game. The fact it was Huff who Al had tried at corner, nickel, strong safety and then free safety, it was fitting that he made this play.”
Schaub was flushed out to his left, threw across his body as Branch made a beeline for the Texans quarterback, and Huff snagged the ball and fell to his knees.
Maybe there are football gods, maybe it’s just a coincidence.
“Al Davis had his hands on that ball man,” said Jackson in the Raiders spent postgame locker room after the win.Some of Al Davis’ more scrutinized personnel moves had their best day as Raiders in Houston back on October 9th, 2011:
- Many NFL draft “experts” laughed at Davis’ pick of Raiders kicker
Sebastian Janikowskiin the first round back in 2000. Janikowski kicked an NFL-record three field goals of 50 or more yards in the game. He connected from 55, 54 and 50 yards and added one from 42 yards late in the game.
- 2008 7th overall pick Darius Heyward-Bey had one of his best games as a Raider with seven catches for 99 yards, including a 34-yard catch and run for a touchdown. He showed off the very speed Davis coveted when he drafted him.
- Davis gave up a 2011 number-one draft pick for Richard Seymour who had two sacks on the day.
- 2006 seventh-overall pick safety Michael Huff saved the game with an interception on the Texans final drive.