Carson Palmer admits that the first few weeks as an Oakland Raider he has been on "information overload." But the veteran signal caller looked spectacular in a 24-17 victory against the San Diego Chargers on Thursday night at Qualcomm Stadium.
Palmer, who made his second start as a Raider, finally showed signs that he understands the offensive philosophies that made him such an attractive free agent. The nine-year veteran completed 14 of 20 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns, both to rookie wide receiver Denarius Moore, in a win that has the Raiders (5-4) sitting atop the AFC West.
"I’m excited about [Moore]. He’s a very special talent," Palmer said. "He has everything you need to be a successful receiver. It just depends on how great he wants to be."
It wasn’t just the newfound dynamic duo that kept the Chargers defense off balance, as running back Michael Bush had a breakout game.
Bush, who started because star running back Darren McFadden was out with an ankle injury, had 242 yards from scrimmage, which was the most by a Raiders player since Bo Jackson’s record-setting game (287 yards) in 1987. Bush did just what you would expect from any runner who has the night of his career: praise the big boys up front.
"The offensive line did a great job of keeping the seams open for me," Bush said. "I was just making reads."
The Louisville alum pummeled the defense, racking up 157 yards on the ground on 30 carries.
"He’s a great downhill runner," Chargers safety Eric Weddle said. "He’s a huge back. When he had creases and lanes, he gets through them. It’s hard to arm tackle guys that good."
The San Diego defense may have been gashed, but it was the offense that sputtered when it really mattered most. After the Raiders jumped out to a first-half lead, the Philip Rivers-led offense had three consecutive three-and-outs. The Chargers went into the locker room at half mustering only three points. The home crowd of 68,109, many of whom were Raiders fans, let them hear it.
"Obviously, this game is played in all three phases, we have to feed off of each other," Chargers head coach Norv Turner said of his team’s sub-par first-half performance. "The inability to get first downs and giving the ball back to them is a part of it."
Turner eventually made some adjustments, and the Chargers reacted immediately. In the first series of the second half, Rivers orchestrated an eight-play, 80-yard scoring drive that culminated with Rivers lofting a pass down the sideline that standout rookie wide receiver Vincent Brown corralled for a 30-yard touchdown. Brown, a San Diego State alum who was playing on his collegiate home field, leaped over two defenders to make the grab, cutting the Oakland lead to 17-10.
Later in the third quarter, Brown appeared to come down with a second touchdown catch, but it was nullified after officials ruled that because the defender landed out of bounds with his hand on the ball, it was considered out of bounds.
"That certainly looked like a touchdown to me," Turner groaned to the gathering of reporters.
The ruling didn’t alter the game as the Chargers finished the drive, which was capped by Jacob Hester’s 7-yard touchdown — the final points of the game.
It was a bruising defeat for the Chargers, who lost their third game in 11 days and potentially some mainstay offensive linemen to injury.
Left tackle Marcus McNeill was carted off the field with 7:39 remaining in the first quarter after reinjuring his neck. Brandyn Dombrowski replaced the former Pro Bowl tackle and it was evident. Dombrowski was beaten in key situations, not allowing Rivers enough time to survey the field. He gave up two of Kamerion Wimbley’s four sacks, which left his quarterback rattled.
Later in the game, guard Louis Vasquez also sustained an injury.
"When you can get to a quarterback, eventually you’re going to affect him," Wimbley said of the Raiders’ six-sack performance.
Dombrowski, who saw some critical time last season, looked clearly overmatched.
"[Wimbley] is a great pass rusher," Dombrowski said. "He has that dip move, and we were working on it during the week."
The holes in the line led to a battering of Rivers, who added another interception to his league-high count (15).
It’s easy to point out the glaring absence of running back Darren Sproles, who is now thriving in Sean Payton’s offense in New Orleans this season, or Antonio Gates not playing at 100 percent. But on this night Rivers may have lost command of the offense.
"I want us to keep fighting and get out of this hole," Rivers said. "We just got to keep believing."
Believe all you want, but the Chargers are in trouble.
And the Raiders? Well, the Raiders have suddenly got a good thing going.