They played in a stadium enveloped in a smoky haze and didn’t have a completed pass or a first down until the second quarter.
They were tied 3-3 late into the first half against an opponent playing so poorly that its coach afterward apologized to the fans.
They had just four possessions that lasted longer than five plays and won a 60-minute game with, basically, 2 minutes 52 seconds of truly productive offense.
The Chargers promised not to overlook Oakland on Sunday, and they didn’t. They also didn’t overwhelm the Raiders, winning 20-6. But the NFL cares only about the final score, not the path used to get there, no matter how crooked or crazy.
“The energy was just weird today,” running back Melvin Gordon said. “I don’t know. The fans or something. I kinda like to feed off the fans, even when they’re booing us. It was like they were quiet too. It just was awkward.”
It was, indeed, partly because of the conditions. Nearby wildfires brought smoke to the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on a day when the winds swirled and gusted to the point where Philip Rivers had to holster his weekly go-deep aspirations.
Several fans watched the game while wearing surgical masks for protection and Gordon was among the Chargers who acknowledged their throats hurt more than normal.
Chargers defensive tackle Corey Liuget, asked about the smoke, said “It canceled out the weed smell we usually get in Oakland.”
The victory was the Chargers’ sixth in a row and pushed their record to 7-2, their best nine-game mark since 2006, when they finished 14-2.
They now return to StubHub Center for the first time since Oct. 7 for consecutive games against 3-6 Denver and 2-7 Arizona.
The Chargers are flying high but still not quite high enough. They trail Kansas City by a game and a half in the AFC West, the Chiefs having defeated the Chargers 38-28 in Week 1.
“Despite what we’re doing, we’re still not winning our division,” tight end Antonio Gates said. “All the outside talk is great, but we’re still in second place. … Our first goal is to win the division. Our next goal is to win the Super Bowl.”
The Raiders entered this game 1-7 and still haven’t scored a touchdown since Oct. 28.
Yet, they dominated the first quarter, thanks in part to an opening-series fake punt that resulted in a 42-yard gain.
Still, the Chargers defense rose up early and stopped Oakland on fourth and goal at the one-yard line. Rookie safety Derwin James thwarted the Raiders’ shovel pass to Dwayne Harris for no gain.
“The plays he makes don’t surprise me anymore,” coach Anthony Lynn said of James. “We expect those plays out of D.J.”
The Chargers successfully protected their end zone all three times Oakland moved inside the 20-yard line. The defense also provided the jolt the offense needed early in the second quarter when Melvin Ingram sacked Derek Carr and forced a fumble that Liuget picked up and ran back 24 yards.
Chargers running back Melvin Gordon III celebrates with teammate Keenan Allen after scoring a touchdown early in the third quarter at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
A frustrated Derek Carr throws the ball into the ground to avoid a sack by Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram III on a fourth down late in the game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers kicker Michael Badgley connects on a 41 yard field goal in the second half at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers receiver Tyrell Williams reacts after missing a pass from quarterback Philip Rivers during second half action at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is tackled by Oakland Raiders linebacker Shilique Calhoun after scrambling for one yard during second half action at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers receiver Keenan Allen loses the battle for the ball as Oakland Raiders safety Marcus Gilchrest intercepts a Philip Rivers pass in the second half at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers running back Melvin Gordon hurdles over Oakland Raiders safety Karl Joseph during a second-half drive at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram III knocks the ball loose as he sacks Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr in the second quarter at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates share a chuckle on the sideline after averting a nearly disasterous interception on a tipped ball early against the Oakland Raiders at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is sacked by Chargers defensive linemen Darius Philon and Isaac Rochell during fourth quarter action at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers launches a pass as he is pressured by Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Frostee Rucker late in the fourth quarter at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Oakland Raiders safety Erik Harris can’t pull in tipped pass from Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers early in the first quarter at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
That set up the first of two Michael Badgley field goals and awakened an offense that was limited to six plays in the first quarter. Those six plays netted six yards.
“It’s frustrating,” Gordon said of being forced to watch from the sideline. “But you know you never let it break you or bring you down. We understand it’s just football. Somebody’s going to make a play to change the momentum. It’s just bound to happen. Melvin Ingram sparked that today.”
The offense’s most significant contributions came the next two times it had the ball.
Moving 91 yards in eight plays, the Chargers scored on an 11-yard pass from Rivers to Keenan Allen with 24 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Then, after receiving the second-half kickoff, the Chargers went 77 yards in four plays, the last of which was a check-down pass that Gordon turned into a 66-yard score.
Suddenly, in fewer than three minutes of scoreboard time, a 3-3 game was a 17-3 Chargers lead and the heavily favored visitors were in control as the crowd grew impatient and more vocal.
Afterward Raiders coach Jon Gruden felt compelled to tell the team’s fans he was sorry. Continuing his forgettable day, he then called the Chargers “San Diego.”
By any name, this team remains one of the NFL’s hottest.
“When you’ve been around this league, you realize that sometimes these games are the hardest games to play,” Gates said, referring to facing an opponent with little to lose. “You don’t know what they’re gonna pull out. We took some bumps and bruises early on. But we stuck to our game plan and we were able to finish.”