OAKLAND, Calif. — Jon Gruden looked like he had played, not merely coached, as if the word merely ever is an appropriate word for anything that happens in an NFL game.
Especially one involving the Raiders. Particularly in prime time against the Chargers.
In the end, however, Gruden was happy, Black Hole happy.
A game that could have been lost — those 12 penalties, those several Chargers comebacks — became the game that wouldn’t be lost.
The Raiders trailed. Only as 1:06 remained in what is destined to be the last Chargers-Raiders game at the half-century-old Coliseum.
Who made the call? Gruden, the head man? Greg Olson, the offensive coordinator? Gruden wouldn’t say specifically. There was no question who made the play, Josh Jacobs, thanks in part to an offensive line that created a huge opening.
It wasn’t a run to daylight. More like a run into darkness, as well as into the end zone. The Raiders were ahead, and not even a missed extra point would matter, Oakland clutching a 26-24 victory over a team that has beaten them so frequently.
“I give everybody credit,” Gruden said about the decision to call a run when the Chargers must have been looking for a pass. “We were all involved.”
Then he quipped, “I called the ones that didn’t work. It was a tough game.”
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, describing the play, said what everyone in the place suspected: “We were probably in a pass defense, and they ran up the middle.”
Did he ever.
“I mean,” said Jacobs, “I was waiting for that one play to break.”
Another one of those Raider No. 1s from last April’s draft, defensive end Clelin Ferrell, was called twice in one set of downs for lining up offside — and then responsible for three of the five sacks on quarterback Philip Rivers.
“Sack totals are driving me nuts,” said Gruden, when someone noted Ferrell had not brought down opposing quarterbacks that often. “He does a lot more than just rush the passer. He made some great plays against the run. It was a signature game for him, but it was great for him to get some sacks.”
Everything the Raiders accomplish this season — or don’t accomplish — will be a memory, if not historic. They’re leaving Oakland for Las Vegas, leaving a stadium that is dated and falling apart in places, leaving a fan base that has survived and thrived despite being mistreated.
That scoring run by Jacobs, a rookie, was in effect another parting gift to those fans.
“Every win, I’m going down there,” Gruden said of the Black Hole, the NFL’s most notorious group of partisans. “I get face paint all over me. I get to see some costumes I have not seen before at any football games. It’s awesome.”
The Raiders' 5-4 record after their second victory in four days might not be awesome, but it does make them a surprise and even a contender.
“I’d like to say this was a great team effort,” Gruden said. “We beat a really good team.”
A team that last Sunday took apart the Green Bay Packers.
“Defensively, we got really good play from all three levels," he added. “Whitehead (linebacker Tahir Whitehead) was all over the field. Clelin Ferrell and the pass rush showed up. You can’t say enough about (safety) Erik Harris and the secondary. And I thought quarterback Derek Carr took care of the ball and had a couple of great drives at the end of the first half to win the game.”
Those drives put the Raiders in front 17-14 at halftime, after the Chargers — the tendency is to call them San Diego even though they’ve been in L.A. for three years — came back from a 10-0 deficit to grab a 14-10 lead.
Carr completed 21 of 31 for 28 yards and a touchdown, and when the defense was on the field he pumped his fist on the sideline to encourage a crowd that needed no encouragement.
“Man, I’ll say this,” Carr insisted, “that was an old-school AFC bloodbath, and we just found a way to win, you know?”
We do know.