Oak­land has eyes on big­ger prize

Not con­tent with just a play­off berth, Raiders turn at­ten­tion to di­vi­sion ti­tle

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Alameda, Cal­i­for­nia

Oak­land coach Jack Del Rio was swamped with con­grat­u­la­tory mes­sages af­ter the Raiders clinched their first play­off berth in 14 years on Sun­day.

Fans had rea­son for ex­cite­ment af­ter more than a decade of los­ing that fea­tured 18 start­ing quar­ter­backs, nine head coaches and the sec­ond-most losses in the league — 148.

Del Rio’s fo­cus, how­ever, is else­where, with the Raiders (11-3) still need­ing two more wins to clinch the di­vi­sion and a first-round bye once they get to the play­offs.

“I’m ex­cited for the fans,” Del Rio said on Mon­day. “There’s been a drought here. Two years ago we talked about win­ning the di­vi­sion and be­ing in the play­offs.

“The be­ing in the play­offs part is there; the win­ning the di­vi­sion is still to be de­ter­mined. So we need to con­tinue to work on that, let the fans en­joy the other part, but as a team we’ve got to get back to work.”

The Raiders had a very suc­cess­ful Sun­day as they watched Ten­nessee beat Kansas City 19-17 on a last-sec­ond field goal to knock the Chiefs out of first place in the AFC West, then went out and beat San Diego 19-16 to clinch at least a wild-card spot.

Oak­land now turns its at­ten­tion to Satur­day’s home game against In­di­anapo­lis (7-7). With wins over the Colts and then in the sea­son fi­nale at Den­ver (8-6), the Raiders would win the AFC West.

They can also win the di­vi­sion with only one win, as long as Kansas City loses again.

Oak­land also can earn the top seed in the AFC with the com­bi­na­tion of two wins and a loss by New Eng­land.

It’s a re­mark­able turn­around for a team that started the 2014 sea­son with 10 straight losses be­fore turn­ing things around af­ter the hir­ing of Del Rio that off­sea­son.

Del Rio came to a fran­chise that had build­ing blocks in place in quar­ter­back Derek Carr and pass rusher Khalil Mack, the team’s top two draft picks in 2014, but lit­tle else.

Two strong free-agent class-

The be­ing in the play­offs part is there; the win­ning the di­vi­sion is still to be de­ter­mined. Jack Del Rio, Raiders coach

Score­board

es, key draft picks such as re­ceiver Amari Cooper, and de­vel­op­ment of play­ers still here have helped Oak­land be­come one of the league’s top teams — and made Del Rio’s pre­dic­tion of win­ning the di­vi­sion a le­git­i­mate pos­si­bil­ity.

“It wasn’t any­thing that I saw. We had a lot of work to do,” Del Rio said.

“It’s a be­lief that any­thing is pos­si­ble when you get a group of men to be­lieve in each other and work hard. We’ve done that. We’ve added to the tal­ent base and we’ve em­braced the mes­sage.” It hasn’t come easy. The Raiders have needed seven fourth-quar­ter come­backs to vault to the top of the di­vi­sion, start­ing with a win­ning two-point con­ver­sion at New Or­leans in the sea­sonopener that set the tone for the year.

Carr has also led come­back wins over Bal­ti­more, Tampa Bay, Houston, Carolina, Buf­falo and San Diego to tie for the sec­ond-most fourth-quar­ter come­backs in a sea­son.

He‘s had help from a ma­ligned de­fense that, de­spite rank­ing 31st, al­low­ing 6.07 yards per play, has not al­lowed a sin­gle point on 11 drives in the fi­nal five min­utes with the op­po­nent hav­ing a chance to tie or take the lead.

“We’ve seen glimpses of what we’re ca­pa­ble of. We want to be in con­stant pur­suit of a per­fect per­for­mance, and the per­fec­tion is not re­ally in the end re­sult but in the ef­fort that you give,” Del Rio said.

“We’re look­ing to give tremen­dous ef­fort, clean up what we can, be very com­pet­i­tive and con­tinue to win sit­u­a­tions and win games.” Pan­ther on the prowl

Carolina Pan­thers full­back Mike Tol­bert rolls over Wash­ing­ton Red­skins out­side linebacker Martrell Spaight to score a sec­ond-half touch­down on Mon­day night at FedEX Field in Wash­ing­ton, DC. The Pan­thers won 26-15.

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