Raiders return from Mexico City with playoff hopes growing
Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, center, and defensive end Khalil Mack (52) celebrate after their NFL football game against the Houston Texans Monday, Nov. 21, 2016, in Mexico City. The Raiders won, 27-20. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) Jack Del Rio seemed almost shocked as he walked into the news conference Tuesday and made his way past a growing group of TV cameras and reporters.
''I thought it would be thin today,'' Del Rio said, about nine hours after the Raiders arrived back in California following a 27-20 win over the Houston Texans in Mexico City.
Del Rio should probably get used to the extra attention at this point – even if some of the chatter is about potential stadium deals for the team.
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At 8-2, the Raiders have a one-game lead in the AFC West and are tied with the New England Patriots for the best record in the conference – a remarkable turnaround for a team that lost its first 10 games two years ago and hasn't had a winning season since last making the playoffs in 2002.
That was also the previous time Oakland had a four-game winning streak, which the Raiders matched by beating the Texans.
Not that there is much time for celebrating.
After arriving in California early Tuesday morning following a red-eye flight from Mexico City then spending an hour passing through customs, Del Rio and his staff turned their attention to this week's game against Carolina.
The short week also includes the Thanksgiving holiday, another hurdle for Del Rio and his staff.
''There are definitely challenges to recovering on the short week and traveling and playing at (a high) altitude and all those things,'' Del Rio said.
''We spent a lot of time in the offseason going through how we're going to work the team and forecasting things that are coming, so it's not like we're just trying to decide today what we're going to do. We've got a plan in place … and the guys have embraced it.
''It's hugely important for us to bounce back from what we just did and get prepared for what's next.''
Derek Carr threw a pair of touchdown passes in the fourth quarter against Houston to lead the comeback, a growing trend for a quarterback that is getting some attention as a potential MVP candidate.
In his two-plus seasons in the NFL, Carr has led the Raiders to nine game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime- including four times this season.
''It really comes down to the execution in those situations,'' Del Rio said. ''He's done a great job of staying even-keel throughout the evening. He's really been tremendously poised and composed and he's gone out and delivered for us.''
Not everything went well in Mexico City.
Two weeks after piling up 218 rushing yards against Denver, the Raiders were limited to just 30 by the Texans.
There were also a handful of dropped passes by wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Seth Roberts, and a defense that had considerable difficulty covering Texans tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz.
All of that was a lot easier for Del Rio to take after Carr's game-winning touchdown pass to Amari Cooper with 4:53 remaining.
The Raiders then sealed the win a few moments later when running back Latavius Murray gained 6 yards on a fourth-and-1 play after Del Rio initially debated punting.
''You know you're putting yourself out there a little bit, but you're believing in your guys, and they delivered,'' Del Rio said. ''When you know you're putting yourself out there, and then they deliver, it's satisfying.''
NOTES: Del Rio was questioned about an announcement earlier in the day from Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf that a framework had been agreed to on a potential stadium deal to keep the team in Oakland. ''That doesn't have anything to do with us and the team right now,'' Del Rio said. … Del Rio also said he spoke with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell before Monday's game, but that the subject of suspended linebacker Aldon Smith did not come up. Smith has applied for reinstatement, but has yet to hear back from the league. … Defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. has not yet been cleared to practice.
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