The undisputed keys to the Raiders' 24-17 win on Thursday night over the Chargers were RB Michael Bush and OLB-DE Kamerion Wimbley. Bush, starting in place of Darren McFadden, gained 242 total yards on 33 combined touches rushing and receiving, constantly working away at a banged-up San Diego defense. Wimbley finished with four sacks and five other quarterback hits, likely leaving the imprint of his cleats on Philip Rivers by the end of the night for all the times he had to walk over the quarterback to get back to the Oakland defensive huddle.
Along with those two, WR Denarius Moore (5-123-2) and S Matt Giordano (game-clinching interception) were important supporting players in the victory. The contributions of all four were reasons the Raiders improved to 5-4.
But it was QB Carson Palmer, who for the first time in the Silver and Black seemed comfortable with the playbook and equipped to make the necessary throws, whose play was the most important long-term revelation of the victory. Like it or not, the Raiders' season will hinge on Palmer's adjustment from couch-lying retired player to gun-slinging signalcaller. On Thursday, Palmer showed why the team sacrificed so much to acquire him and why it is now the leader in the race for the AFC West title.
The PFW spin
In one sense, Palmer's numbers speak for themselves: 14-of-20 for 299 yards, two touchdowns, one interception. That shows what kind of night Palmer had.
However, the success Palmer had was more important than gaudy statistics. Since Jason Campbell suffered a broken collarbone in the second quarter of the team's Week Six victory over the Browns, the Raiders have lacked a playmaker at the most important position on the field. After Kyle Boller showed he couldn't handle the job, Palmer struggled mightily in his first two games with the team, one in which he came off the bench and threw three interceptions to the Chiefs, and another in which he tossed three more picks in a blown loss to the Broncos. Because of his struggles, the questions were growing louder, as if the team had made an error in dealing for the former Bengal. Thursday night was as much a redemption for Palmer as it was a validation he could still play at a high level.
"We had a real good rhythm going," Palmer said following the win in San Diego. "There were some great play calls at the right time. We still have some things to get better at, but it's just good to come into this environment and get a win."
Having now finished three straight games inside the AFC West, the Raiders leave the division for the next five weeks before rematches with the Chiefs and Chargers. In that stretch, Palmer has a chance to do what he was brought to Oakland for, which is lead the team to the playoffs and, in the process, prove all the doubters (like me) wrong.
Based on his performance on Thursday, he and his teammates seem to be on the right path to making that happen.
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