ALAMEDA, CA – Placekicker Sebastian Janikowski kicked a franchise record six field goals, punter Shane Lechler booted a record 80-yard punt, and return phenom Devin Hester didn’t get a kick or punt return longer than 21 yards as the Oakland Raiders held off the Chicago Bears 25-20 at the Coliseum Sunday afternoon. The win helped the Raiders (7-4, 2-2 Division) remain alone atop of the AFC West while the Bears (7-4, 2-2 Division) have dropped into a three-way tie for two wild card spots in the NFC.
“We knew coming in what type of football team we were playing, a good football team, a team that’s leading their division,” said Bears’ head coach Lovie Smith of the Raiders.
Erratic at times throughout the season, the Raiders weren’t great in all three phases of the game, but they were definitely good enough for the win. The offense averaged less than three yards per rush, allowed four sacks, and a turnover, but they still accounted for 25 points on seven scores. The defense allowed 172 yards rushing, 229 yards passing, but they also came away with three interceptions and prevented the Bears from taking an extended lead at any point in the game.
On special teams, the Raiders didn’t have a return worthy of mention, but their kickers were. Janikowski was automatic on field goals, four of 40-plus yards, and his kickoffs prevented the Bears from getting particularly good field position on drives. Lechler booted an 80-yard punt, 71 yards in the air, and made two coffin-corner kicks that pinned Chicago within their own five yard line.
The play of Janikowski and Lechler didn’t come as a surprise to Smith. “We knew that they had a great kicker and a great punter,” smith explained. “It wasn’t a shock to us.”
Punts are calculated from the line of scrimmage, but Lechler was actually on the Raiders’ 10 yard line when he boomed his 80-yard bomb with a little more than 10 minutes remaining in the game. The ball came down on the Chicago nine yard line and bounced towards the end zone before eventually landing in the end zone for a touchback. The record punt for a Raider, bested Wayne Crowe’s 77-yard punt on Oct. 29, 1961 at Candlestick Park against the then New York Titans.
Janikowski, who has been hampered by a bad hamstring in recent weeks, kicked field goals from 40, 47, 42, 19, 37, and 44 yards on his way to the Raiders’ record book for most field goals made by a Raider in a game. The Polish Cannon dusted his previous record of five field goals in a game, set in 2007 at Minnesota.
Janikowski can credit the number of attempts to the offense’s inability to take advantage of their scoring opportunities. Despite the score, the game wasn’t as close as it would indicate. The Raiders were just one for five in the red zone, and had trouble converting third downs to a tune of three for 15 attempts for a 20 percent efficiency rating.
On the Raiders’ first possession of the game, quarterback Carson Palmer (21-37-1 301 yds) connected with Darrius Heyward-Bey (4-42) for 19 yards and then 24 yards to tight end Brandon Myers (1-24) – both over the middle of the field. The two gains put Oakland on the Chicago 28 yard line, and a Michael Bush rush around the left end for six yards, made it second and four from the 22. Palmer would throw twice more for incompletions, forcing Janikowski on the field for his first field goal of the game – a 40-yard make.
Still in the first quarter, an interception of Bears’ quarterback Caleb Hanie by cornerback Stanford Routt, gave the Raiders the ball on Chicago’s 31 yard line. Oakland picked up a first down with a seven-yard pass to Heyward-Bey and a four-yard run by Bush (24-69-1). After Bush rushed for one more yard, Palmer was nearly picked on a pass to tight end Kevin Boss (1-8), and then sacked for a 10-yard loss to give Janikowski his 47-yard make on fourth and 19 from the Chicago 29 yard line.
Even though the Raiders remained in control throughout the first quarter and for two-thirds of the second, they were only up 6-0, when the Bears finally got production from their offense. After an interception of Palmer at the Chicago 26, the Bears handed the ball to Marion Barber for tough yards and big gains. The first three plays of the possession, Barber rushed for 27 tough yards to the Oakland 47 yard line.
On third and 18, from the Bears’ 45, Hanie scrambled out of the pocket for a 24-yard gain that moved the chains. Three plays later, on the Raiders’ 29 yard line, the Bears faced a third and eight and a Raiders’ blitz. On the play, eight Raiders blitzed and that left slot receiver Johnny Knox wide open over the middle for a 29-yard touchdown score and a lead change with 4:47 remaining in the half.
Despite manhandling the Bears for most of the half, the Raiders found themselves trailing in the game, 7-6. That lasted nearly two minutes.
After two futile drives, the Raiders again counted on one big play to put them in scoring position – a 47-yard screen pass to fullback Marcel Reece on the first play of the ensuing drive. The reception gave Oakland field position at the Chicago 33-yard line, but the Silver and Black would advance the ball just another seven yards before calling on Janikowski for field goal number three – a 43-yard make.
Although down 9-7, and being outplayed for most of the game, the Bears were continuing to build momentum in the game. After the go-ahead field goal, Janikowski squibbed the kickoff to Knox, who bobbled the ball before picking it up and finding a seam in the kick coverage. The opening allowed Knox to return the ball to the Raiders’ 35 yard line on a 56-yard return.
Three plays into the possession, a 17-yard pass to tight end Kellen Davis, a short pass to tailback Matt Forte’ for five yards, and an offsides penalty on defensive end Lamarr Houston put the ball on the Oakland seven, with a down and distance of second and one to move the chains. With 40 seconds remaining in the half, it appeared that the Bears would surely go on top before the break.
The defense stepped up big on the next play – an attempted screen pass to Forte’. Linebacker Aaron Curry stepped in front of the pass, tipped it up, and fellow linebacker Kamerion Wimbley caught the tipped ball before returning it 73 yards the other way. The career defender guided his blockers and moved like a tailback while weaving in and out of traffic to get to the Chicago 12 yard line before being horse-collared by offensive lineman Lance Louis.
“Man, I thought I was like Barry Sanders or something,” said Wimbley of his interception return. “Naw, like I said, when I caught it, I was just looking at the end zone and I was trying my best to get there and it happened to be a long run. I couldn’t get there, and an offensive lineman caught me, so the guys won’t let me live that down for a while.”
The penalty put the ball on the six yard line with 18 seconds remaining before the break. Once again, Oakland couldn’t turn their field position into a touchdown – settling for a Janikowski 19-yard field goal that gave the Raiders a 12-7 halftime lead.
Just as they ended the first half, the Raiders again found themselves on a scoring drive to begin the second half. Two passes to Reece for 40 yards, an 11-yard rush by Bush, and 17-yard completion to receiver Chaz Schilens put the ball on the Chicago 11 yard line. One two-yard rush by Bush and two incomplete passes by Palmer led to another field goal by Janikowski – this time from 37 yards for a 15-7 Raiders lead.
With 22 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Janikowski would set the Raiders record for field goals in a game with his sixth – a 44-yard attempt to give Oakland a 18-7 lead going into the final quarter.
Chicago retaliated early in the fourth quarter with a 10-play, 51-yard drive that resulted in a 50-yard field goal by Robbie Gould with 10:51 remaining in the contest.
The Raiders answered Chicago’s score with a three-and-out series, followed by Lechler’s record-setting bomb that returned the ball to the Bears at their 20. Combined with Janikowski’s field goals, the Raiders kicking game had just put an exclamation point on the day with the Lechler punt.
“Everything. Absolutely everything,” answered Reece when asked what Janikowski means to the organization.
“When we couldn’t get in the end zone a couple years ago, he’s kicking the ball through the uprights every time,” continued Reece. “And when we can get in the end zone he’s automatic, so Sebastian means the world to this team. And Shane is kicking to the best returner possibly in the NFL and we pull it off with great kicks and great coverage.”
The Bears put together a seven-play, 45-yard drive and called on Gould for another long field goal – 53 yards – to put them within striking distance down 18-13, with 7:17 remaining.
To this Bears score, the Raiders answered appropriately with an eight-play, 74-yard touchdown drive that extended their lead to 25-13 with 3:47 remaining in the game. The touchdown came after the biggest play of the drive – a 48-yard bomb to receiver Louis Murphy that put the ball on the three yard line of the Bears. Bush walked up the middle untouched on the following play for the score.
“It was just sell the 5-yard in route and then fight through the contact. And he laid up a great ball, man. Can’t complain,” said Murphy of the long pass play.
Hanie, who was forced into action after starting quarterback Jay Cutler was injured in last week’s game, had a rough day, throwing three interceptions and completing just 18 passes on 36 attempts for 254 yards. He did have two touchdown passes and the longest pass play of the game.
On third and 16 from their own 10 yard line, Hanie launched a deep strike to Knox down the right sideline. Knox, who was blanketed by Raiders safety Matt Giordano, put up his left hand and pulled down the nearly overthrown pass for the catch, then sprinted to the Raiders’ nine yard line before being taken down by Giordano. There was no defense to the play – a perfect throw and catch that caught the Raiders a little off guard. Two plays later, Davis was the recipient of the nine-yard touchdown that cut the Raiders’ lead to 25-20 with 2:11 remaining in the contest.
Chicago would have one more opportunity to steal the game from Oakland, but with just four seconds remaining, Hanie spiked the ball at the Chicago 46. The spike came after Hanie took a step back, which nullifies the spike and becomes an intentional grounding penalty. The penalty came with a clock runoff of 10 seconds that ended the game.
“I have so many people to thank but I have to reflect for a moment to Coach Davis,” Raiders’ head coach Hue Jackson began his post-game press conference. “One conversation that I had with him obviously before he passed was, um, he said ‘Hue, winning in this league is not easy and it’s not gonna’ be always pretty,’ He said. ‘As long as they play as hard as they can, you’ll have a chance to win.’ He’s right.”
While it wasn’t a pretty win, it was enough to keep the Raiders in first – one game ahead of the Tebow-led Denver Broncos at 6-5, 3-2 in the AFC West.