Chargers edge rusher Melvin Ingram delivered the jarring hit that forced Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr to fumble Sunday, and defensive end Corey Liuget, all 6 feet 2 and 300 pounds of him, suddenly found himself with the ball in his hands and 64 yards of Oakland Coliseum turf in front of him.
“All I seen was green grass, baby,” Liuget said. “I’ve never seen so much green in my life. … I should have definitely taken it to the house.”
Liuget, with a chance for the first scoop-and-score of his eight-year NFL career, never made it to the house. He did rumble with the fumble for 24 yards before Raiders running back Jalen Richard hauled him down, but that hardly put a damper on a stout defensive effort that keyed Sunday’s 20-6 Chargers victory.
The Raiders made three trips to the red zone but none to the end zone, the Chargers stopping them on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line in the first quarter, forcing them to settle for a field goal in the fourth, and making another fourth-down stop with about four minutes left.
“It’s hard to keep an NFL team out of the end zone … and to keep them out when they were on our one-yard line? That’s amazing,” Liuget said. “It speaks to our defense and how much heart we have and how much we play for each other.”
Johnny Townsend’s 42-yard run with a fake punt extended Oakland’s first drive of the game, and the Raiders had a third-and-goal from the two-yard line. Adrian Phillips and Damion Square combined to stop Doug Martin for a one-yard gain, and the Raiders decided to go for it on fourth down.
Oakland receiver Dwayne Harris went in motion from right to left and took a short flip pass from Carr, who was in shotgun formation. But Chargers safety Derwin James sniffed out the play and tackled Harris short of the goal line, leaving the Raiders scoreless at the end of a seven-minute drive.
“That’s gut wrenching because we moved the ball straight down the field,” Carr said. “We’ve seen multiple teams score on that play. They had trouble at first lining up to it, just like we saw on film. As I’m sitting there, I’m thinking this is going to walk in, and then it didn’t.”
The Kansas City Chiefs scored on a similar play in the season opener against the Chargers, Tyreek Hill taking a short flip from quarterback Patrick Mahomes and scoring from one yard out. The Chargers were ready this time.
“It’s pretty obvious when a guy is coming in motion and my guy is trying to come out and block me, I know it’s a jet sweep,” James said. “So I just beat him, made a play and got off the field. That was a big momentum swing because we kept them out of the end zone and kept points off the board.”
The Raiders dominated the first quarter, running 23 plays to the Chargers’ six, racking up 135 total yards to the Chargers’ six, and possessing the ball for 12 minutes and 14 seconds compared to the Chargers’ 2:46. Oakland held a 3-0 lead on the strength of Daniel Carlson’s 46-yard field goal.
The Raiders threatened to extend the lead when they drove to the Chargers’ 21-yard line early in the second quarter. As Carr dropped back on third-and-six, Liuget and end Isaac Rochell, who had 1½ sacks for a loss of 13 yards, ran a backside stunt that allowed Ingram to spin by Oakland guard Kelechi Osemele.
Ingram sacked Carr for an 11-yard loss. The ball popped out of Carr’s hand, bounced three times and into the hands of Liuget, who scooped it up like a middle infielder. Visions of an end zone dance began running through Chargers’ heads.
“I thought Corey was going all the way,” Ingram said. “That would have been amazing. It would have been crazy. We would have taken our whole uniform off.”
That a speedy running back tackled Liuget eased the sting of not scoring.
“They say No. 30 was blazing,” Liuget said of Richard. “I’m glad it was a running back instead of a lineman who caught me. I would have felt bad if it was a lineman.”
The strip-sack shifted momentum toward the Chargers, who tied the score 3-3 on Michael Badgley’s 27-yard field goal.
The Chargers forced a three-and-out on Oakland’s next possession, Rochell and Darius Philon combining for a 10-yard sack. They drove 91 yards on eight plays, Philip Rivers hitting Keenan Allen with an 11-yard touchdown pass for a 10-3 lead 24 seconds before halftime. They pushed the lead to 17-3 early in the third.
The Raiders had a chance to pull to within a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, driving to the Chargers’ 13-yard line, but cornerback Casey Hayward broke up a third-down pass intended for Brandon LaFell, and Oakland settled for a field goal.
Ingram’s heavy pressure forced Carr to throw the ball away on a fourth-and-five play from the Chargers’ 19-yard line later in the quarter.