Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Raiders beat the San Diego Chargers to earn their first playoff berth since 2002

The Oakland Raiders beat the San Diego Chargers to earn their first playoff berth since 2002

The Raiders entered San Diego this week looking to make their first postseason appearance since 2002, the same year they were blown out in Super Bowl 37 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the very same field. 

Head coach Jack Del Rio deferred and put his defense on the field first as he has done for much of the season, but they came out sluggish. Veteran quarterback Philip Rivers had no trouble moving the ball on the opening drive until the Raiders forced a 3rd and 8 from midfield. Rivers went deep, finding the speedy wide receiver Travis Benjamin for the 47-yard touchdown to give the Chargers the early lead.

Raiders receivers have struggled with drops the last couple of weeks, and it continued on their first offensive drive. Derek Carr and the offense got deep into Chargers territory looking to convert on 3rd and 8. Carr went to one of his most reliable receivers in Michael Crabtree, but he dropped the pass and the Raiders were forced to settle for a 45-yard field goal to make it 7-to-3. 

The Raiders defense would tighten up, forcing three straight three-and-outs by the Chargers offense but Carr and the offense were unable to capitalize due to costly turnovers. 

Running back Latavius Murray came into the game without a fumble all season, but Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram came from behind and knocked the ball lose giving taking the ball away from the Raiders on the nine-yard line. 

The Raiders would get back into the red zone on the next drive after Carr found Amari Cooper for a big 28-yard gain down the left sideline. But just a few of plays later, Carr would look for Seth Roberts over the middle but cornerback Trovon Reed would undercut the route and get his second interception in two games. 

San Diego extended their lead in the second quarter with a 35-yard field goal to make it 10-to-3 after the two-minute warning of the first half. 

With just 1:29 remaining in the half, Carr got the Raiders hurry-up offense going with a couple of run plays back to Murray, totaling 42 yards. Facing a third down, Carr looked for tight end Clive Walford who drew the penalty for the first down. On the very next play the third-year quarterback found Crabtree on a fade route, making an amazing catch to tie the game at 10-to-10 at half.

After receiving the ball to start the second half, Carr got his squad right back into the Chargers red zone. But much like it has done the last couple of weeks, that's where the drive stalled and they had to settle for a 33-yard field goal to make give them their first lead of the game at 13-to-10.

But just like the first half, Rivers and the Chargers offense put on a clinic in their first drive of the half. They did so by going 77 yards on just 7 plays, culminating in a touchdown reception by rookie tight end Hunter Henry to retake the lead. But a costly missed extra point would make that lead just 16-to-13. 

Needing a big play by the defense, it was linebacker Malcolm Smith who came up big. Chargers running back Kenneth Farrow rushed up the middle but fumbled the ball, with Smith recovering it to give the offense the ball in the Chargers red zone. The Raiders got to first and goal from the 1, but were unable to punch it in with Murray with Carr still forced to take the snap out of the shotgun. The Raiders tied the game at 16-to-16 with the chip-shot field goal. 

As he's done so many times before, Carr had another chance to lead his team to a fourth-quarter lead. Murray got things started with a big run for 28 yards, which Carr followed up with a big pass to Seth Roberts for 22 yards. Carr was able to extend the drive with an 8-yard scramble that cued the crowd in San Diego to chant "MVP". Unfortunately the Raiders would once again be unable to capitalize, only getting a field goal to take the 19-to-16 lead with 2:40 remaining. 

The defense needed just one more stop to secure the Raiders first postseason appearance since 2002. That became easier when linebacker Bruce Irvin sacked Rivers for a 5-yard loss. Facing a 4th and 15, Rivers sailed his pass and safety Reggie Nelson came down with the game-winning interception. 

Carr proceeded to take a knee and run the clock out, securing the Raiders postseason appearance. With Kansas City's loss on Sunday, the Raiders have the lead of the AFC West with just two games to play. 

They'll return home to take on the Indianapolis Colts on Christmas Eve next week. 

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