Eight seconds later, cornerback Chris Johnson picked off a Kyle Orton pass and returned it 30 yards for a score. By the end of the first quarter, the Raiders owned a 21-0 lead. By the end of the half, they were up 38-7 and on their way to a stunning 59-14 victory, setting a franchise single-game scoring record.
|There have been lots of hugs coming Darren McFadden's way with his last two performances. (US Presswire)|
The Raiders totaled over 500 net yards on offense in back-to-back games for the first time in team history, gashing Denver for 508 and Seattle for 545. They won back-to-back games by a combined 75 points, their largest two-game margin since 1967 when they were still in the AFL and opened the season by beating the Broncos 51-0 and Patriots 35-7. They scored 92 points in two games after scoring just 197 in 16 games last season.
What in the name of Kenny Stabler to Fred Biletnikoff is going on?
"I feel like now we're on the right track," Raiders running back Darren McFadden said. "We showed up the last two weeks and were playing hard. I feel like if guys keep doing that it's going to be a long time before we lose again.
"It's a big confidence boost. That's something we've been talking about doing, just going out there and putting games together back-to-back, and we've been able to do it. Now we want to just keep going week after week."
At 4-4, the Raiders are off to their best start since their 2002 Super Bowl season when they had the same record after eight games. In the past seven seasons, they started 2-6 six times and 3-5 once. They've lost at least 11 games in seven straight seasons, an infamous NFL record. During that span, they won a combined 29 games while Al Davis fired four coaches -- Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell and Lane Kiffin.
Coach Tom Cable, in a Houdini-like feat, has escaped the ax since replacing Kiffin after four games in 2008. Now he has his team in the thick of the AFC West race, alone in second place and just 1½ games behind Kansas City approaching Sunday's showdown against the Chiefs in Oakland.
"This is what I saw in our team when I came over here last year," said former Patriots defensive tackle Richard Seymour, who came to Oakland in a trade. "This is the kind of thing me and Mr. Davis talked about. This is one of the reasons I came to camp early, to develop chemistry with my teammates."
Offensive guard Robert Gallery has been waiting for the Raiders to become relevant since he came into the league in 2004 as the No. 2 overall pick out of Iowa. He has never won more than five games in a season.
"It's been a lot of fun," Gallery said. "We haven't experienced this a whole lot in the past six, seven years around here. This is what it's supposed to be like. It's supposed to be fun. We're supposed to be in games like this," he said, looking ahead to the Chiefs. "We've got to keep doing what we've done the past couple weeks and we have a shot to do some good things this year."
Even during the Raiders' darkest days the past seven seasons, opposing coaches and players raved about Oakland's raw talent, its speed, size and power. The Raiders, as they say, have always looked impressive coming off the bus -- or running on the track.
This year, the Raiders have channeled their physical gifts in the right direction on the football field. Their defense overpowered and overwhelmed the Broncos and Seahawks. Orton entered the game averaging 324 passing yards but completed just 12 of 29 passes for 198 yards and one touchdown with one interception.
The Raiders sacked Orton four times then sacked Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck eight times. In the past two weeks, Seymour and outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley -- who lines up at end in the nickel -- have each had three sacks and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly two. Kelly and Seymour each sacked Hasselbeck on Seattle's first drive, setting the tone.
"It's like a snowball effect," Kelly said. "I get one, he gets one, everybody wants to get one."
On offense, McFadden is having a breakout year, spearheading the NFL's No. 2-ranked rushing attack. McFadden rushed for a career-high 165 yards and three touchdowns against Denver, as the Raiders totaled 328 rushing yards. He added 111 rushing yards against Seattle.
New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is orchestrating a remarkable turnaround for a team that has moved on from the failed JaMarcus Russell era. There's still some uncertainty and instability at the quarterback position -- Jason Campbell was benched at halftime in Week 2 but started the last three games after Bruce Gradkowski injured his right shoulder -- but nothing compared to the past few seasons.
Campbell has posted back-to-back passer ratings of over 120 and is coming off a 310-yard game against Seattle, but Cable said Gradkowski will start when he's healthy enough to play. If nothing else, that speaks to the team's depth at quarterback, where veteran Kyle Boller is third-string. Just four weeks ago, the Raiders snapped their 13-game losing streak to the Chargers with an emotional 35-27 victory. With a chance to win back-to-back games against the then-winless 49ers, the Raiders stumbled to a 17-9 loss.
"I think as bad and as much as that 49ers game hurt, I think it was kind of one of the last lessons," Cable said. "If you compromise anything, you're failing. That message has become loud and clear, and sometimes a negative becomes a positive, and that's how I look at that one."
Now the Raiders are looking at a chance to win three straight games for the first time since 2002 and to pull within a half-game of the Chiefs in the West.
"I feel like we have a playoff team," McFadden said. "Guys have been believing that since training camp, and now guys are going out there and playing together and showing what we can do."