Missing some of their biggest playmakers and unable to get the ball into the end zone for much of the day, the Oakland Raiders managed to hold the Chicago Bears and their fill-in quarterback in large part because of their kicking game.
Sebastian Janikowski kicked a team-record six field goals, Shane Lechler had an 80-yard punt and neutralized ace returner Devin Hester and the Raiders took advantage of three interceptions from Chicago’s Caleb Hanie to beat the Bears 25-20 Sunday.
”Those guys are game-changers,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. ”There’s not many punter-kicker combinations in the league … they’re can’t be a better one.”
Janikowski made field goals of 40, 47, 42, 19, 37 and 44 yards to break the team record he shared with Jeff Jaeger.
Lechler controlled field position all game with a 49.2 yard net average, pinning the Hester and the Bears inside the 20 on three of five punts and booming the team-record 80-yarder over his head with a boot that generated ”oohs” and ”aahs” from the crowd and his teammates.
The only remaining ties to the Raiders teams that won three straight division titles from 2000-02 were a major reason why Oakland (7-4) remained alone in first in the AFC West.
”Our two kickers are fantastic,” coach Hue Jackson said. ”There’s not another punter or kicker in the National Football League I would ever want to have on the football team. I said to the team when this was over, those were the two men who were here the last time this team was 7-4. Those guys have a lot to do with it. They did a tremendous job.”
Palmer threw for 301 yards and Michael Bush iced the game with a touchdown run in the fourth quarter to lead the Raiders to their third straight win against a Bears team missing starting quarterback Jay Cutler.
Hanie struggled in his first career start for the Bears (7-4) in place of Cutler, who broke his right thumb last week in Chicago’s sixth straight win to put a major obstacle into what had been a promising season.
Hanie, who nearly led a comeback in last season’s NFC title game, had thrown only 14 regular-season passes since signing as an undrafted free agent in 2008 and looked like a career backup for much of this game.
Hanie completed 18 of 35 passes for 254 yards and three interceptions, including a crushing one late in the first half when the Bears were deep in Oakland territory and on the verge of taking the lead.
”I was a little antsy early on,” Hanie said. ”A little bit too amped, I feel like. Just kind of felt a little pressure and sailed it on him.”
But Hanie also threw two TD passes, including a 5-yarder to Kellen Davis with 2:11 to play that cut the deficit to 25-20. That was set up by an 81-yarder to Johnny Knox.
The game ended when Hanie botched a spike play with 4 seconds left at his 46. Instead of immediately spiking the ball to stop the clock, he took an extra step back and hesitated, leading to a game-ending intentional grounding call.
”We should have won that football game based on the way our offense played,” linebacker Brian Urlacher said. ”We didn’t play well enough on defense. We gave up too many big plays, didn’t get enough takeaways. That’s why we didn’t win.”
Bush was held to 69 yards on the ground by Chicago’s strong defense and Palmer was sacked four times and threw an interception as the Raiders missed injured big-play threats Darren McFadden, Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore.
But they made up for it on special teams, headed by Janikowski and Lechler. The Raiders did not shy away from the dangerous Hester, holding him to 7 yards on two punt returns. He didn’t get a chance on the 80-yarder as Lechler sailed it over his head once he saw the returner creeping up too far.
”I caught him in a vulnerable position,” Lechler said. ”It was going to be all or nothing and it was all.”
Hanie managed to drive the Bears into field goal range on that drive and Robbie Gould’s 53-yard field goal cut Oakland’s lead to 18-13 with 7:17 to play.
The Raiders answered with Palmer throwing a 47-yard pass to Louis Murphy on third-and-4 from midfield to set up Bush’s 3-yard TD run with 3:47 remaining.
Hanie’s three first-half interceptions put the Bears in a 12-7 hole despite his 29-yard TD pass to Knox. The Bears had a chance to take the lead when they drove to the 7 late in the first half.
Hanie attempted a throwback screen to Davis that was tipped by Aaron Curry and went right to Kamerion Wimbley, who returned it 83 yards before being dragged down by a horse-collar tackle by Lance Louis. Oakland settled for a 19-yard field goal.
”We knew coming into this game that he lacked experience but we knew that he could still make plays, as you saw in the Green Bay title game last year,” Routt said. ”We knew he still had the ability to make us look bad and come out of here with the W if we didn’t take care of business.”
Notes: Bush’s TD gave Oakland’s its first points in the fourth quarter since Oct. 9 at Houston. … Knox had 278 total yards with 145 coming on his four catches and 133 on four kick returns.