MIAMI -- Last season the Raiders' year ended Jan. 7 with a playoff loss to the Houston Texans. This season could've ended for Oakland on Sunday night, two months earlier, in Week 9 against the Miami Dolphins.
But contrary to what anyone who's watched the Raiders play this season would think, Oakland is right back in the thick of things after nine games.
That's what a 4-5 record gets you in the AFC these days, and the Raiders stand there after a 27-24 win over the Dolphins (4-4) Sunday night. A loss would've dropped the Raiders to 3-6 and realistically out of the playoff race already, with the Patriots, Eagles and Chiefs, among others, on the horizon. But the Raiders avoided disaster in Miami, heading into the bye week on a much-needed victory.
Cruddy field conditions and even cruddier offenses made for an uninspiring start, in which both teams combined for only 122 yards of total offense in the first quarter. The Raiders led, 3-0, thanks to a 36-yard field goal off the left foot of Giorgio Tavecchio. Despite Jay Cutler completing each of his passes, they rarely went anywhere, and the Oakland defense held its own for once.
The game opened up in the second quarter with touchdowns from each team. Damien Williams scored for the Dolphins when he caught a screen pass and bounced off Dexter McDonald and Karl Joseph before finding the end zone. Miami recovered the ensuing onside kick, but Bruce Irvin forced a fumble that TJ Carrie recovered deep in Raider territory. Derek Carr directed a touchdown drive upon getting the ball back, finishing with a 44-yard bomb to Johnny Holton to re-take the lead.
Facing another late-half scenario from near midfield -- last Sunday Carr dumped off to Jalen Richard for 15 yards instead of tossing a Hail Mary into the end zone -- No. 4 found Jared Cook for 16 yards and the Raiders called timeout with one second left. Tavecchio nailed a career-high 53-yard field goal as time expired, sending Oakland into the half up, 13-9.
Something at halftime must've woken Beast Mode, because Marshawn Lynch reeled off runs of 14 and 22 yards on the Raiders' first drive of the second half. The 22-yard run finished in the end zone, giving the Raiders a 20-9 lead. It was also Lynch's longest run of the year by seven yards.
The Raiders' biggest lead since Week 2 didn't last long, as Cutler orchestrated a two-minute, 49-second drive 75 yards to pay dirt to bring Miami back within a score on a Jarvis Landry six-yard touchdown catch.
The Raiders received the ball back with about seven minutes left, still up four, deep in their own territory. This is what they brought Lynch on board for, to close out games like this. And that's exactly what he did, punching in from three yards to put the Raiders up double digits again, which was enough for Oakland to hold on.
(c)2017 East Bay Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)
Visit the East Bay Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) at www.eastbaytimes.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.