HOUSTON -- It wasn't long after the Oakland Raiders' victory Sunday that coach Hue Jackson dropped to one knee on the sideline, bowed his head and stayed there until two of his players approached to lift him to his feet.
"I was thinking about Al," Jackson said later.
Well, of course he was. Everyone within six degrees of separation from the Oakland Raiders was thinking about Al Davis.
Players had black shields on the backs of their helmets, with "Al" inscribed in silver. There was a moment of silence before the game, with footage of Davis played on the big screen. And though there wasn't much said within the Oakland locker room, there was a feeling that this game was different; that it was more meaningful because ... well, because this one was for Al.
"I know he's looking down on this team," said Jackson, "and he's with us every step of the way."
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Well, someone was. Because the Raiders won a game they easily could've lost. But the point is: They won, holding off the Houston Texans 25-20. And they won because they made critical plays when the Texans could not. Sebastian Janikowski, the kicker Davis made a first-round draft choice, nailed four field goals -- including three of 50 or more yards. Their new head coach called a gutsy fake punt midway through the fourth quarter when failure could have meant disaster.
Only it worked.
And safety Michael Huff, a guy who missed most of the week of practice because of an ankle injury, stepped in front of Jacoby Jones on the final play of the afternoon and intercepted a would-be touchdown pass as the clock expired. He wouldn't let go of the ball as teammates mobbed him. Can you blame him?
"We know [Davis] was with us today and is with us all season," said Huff. "He will never die in our eyes. We will never let him go. He's with us. The rest of this season is for him."
Well, someone -- or something -- is with the Oakland Raiders. Talk about karma. They won because they found whatever was missing three weeks ago when they blew an 18-point lead in Buffalo, and I don't think I need to draw a picture. Let's just say they did during Sunday's game what their head coach was doing after it -- namely, thinking of Al.
"Today," said Jackson, "was a game of faith."
It was a game of something, and while it won't gain the Raiders style points it will be treasured ... because it's just what Davis wanted. It was a victory, pure and simple. More than that, it was a victory authored by guys who made big plays when big plays were needed.
Yes, the Raiders survived. I mean, there were enough gaffes in the final three minutes to sink the team ... only they didn't fail. The Raiders inexplicably tried a second-down pass down the sideline with less than three minutes left when Houston had no timeouts left. The ball fell incomplete.
|Fans at Houston's Reliant Stadium paid their respects to the Raiders owner. (Getty Images)|
OK, so they did. Big deal. They won. And, just asking, but does that remind you of anyone connected to this organization?
"Al was about winning period," said Jackson. "[This was] not so much, 'Win one for Al.' We expected to win. We're Raiders. That's just the way we are. This is a new beginning for this football team. We truly believe, and we expect to win. We don't care if they're ugly. We don't care if they're pretty. We don't care. Our No. 1 purpose is to win, and that's what we're all about."
Well, this just in: This time it looks as if they might get there. Look at the NFL schedule, people, and turn to the Oakland Raiders. Their next three games are, in order, against Cleveland, Kansas City and Denver, and all are at home.
Oakland has won its past eight vs. division opponents, so it's not farfetched to think they could win two. But they're now 2-2 outside the AFC West, where they were 2-8 last season. Moreover, they could easily be 3-1. So it's not unimaginable to think they could sweep their next three, either.
That would put them at -- what? -- 6-2 midway through the season? The Oakland Raiders? Remember what Jackson said: This is a "new beginning." After what I just witnessed, I would say anything is possible.
"There are many times in the past," said Jackson, "when a team like this ... in this stadium ... would stop fighting. You guys all know that. Well, we're not going to stop fighting, I don't care what the situation is.
"What we're about is winning. And that's what I mean about the 'new beginning.' We let a couple slip off our fingers this year, and what I talked about to these young men all week was finishing. It's about making plays when your team needs you the most. Our team rose up and made plays, and we're victorious because of it."
I would say that about sums it up. Of course, another way of putting it would be: "Just win, baby." The Raiders did, and get used to it, folks. This is not just an emotional team playing for its owner. This is an improved team playing for a division it believes it can win.
"The old man just passed," said defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, "but you know how much love he had for everybody in the [locker] room. So you just go out and play a little harder for him. And you're happy [with the victory]. You're overjoyed because you know he is happy. We're playing right now the way he wants us to play."
Which is another way of saying the Oakland Raiders are finding ways to win instead of finding ways to lose.
"Al is watching over us," said Janikowski. "He's going to be missed, but we have to move on and win the championship."
That's not a prediction, people. It's more like a warning. And this time, I'd pay attention.