Oakland's fifth-ranked offense was largely shut down by the Houston Texans, but two big pass plays late lifted the Raiders to a 27-20 NFL victory on Monday.
Following a 39-yard pass up the sideline to running back Latavius Murray, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr connected with Amari Cooper for a 35-yard touchdown with less than five minutes remaining to break a 20-20 tie.
Carr shook off early struggles to come through late and prove why he is a leading MVP candidate. He finished 21-of-31 for 295 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
The pick came on the first play of the second half and was a terrible throw by Carr, who was pressure and just threw the ball up for grabs. It was intercepted by Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye and led to a one-yard Lamar Miller touchdown run to cap a 13-play, 65-yard drive.
Despite the turnover, the Raiders were unfazed and answered the touchdown with a 12-play, 73-yard drive, but had to settle for a 20-yard Sebastian Janikowski field goal. Even after the Texans went back up by seven with a field goal of their own, the Raiders were able swing the momentum back their way.
Carr's 75-yard touchdown pass to fullback Jamize Olawale was the result of botched coverage by the Texans, who sent a pair of players toward Cooper and left Olawale uncovered.
The touchdown pass to Cooper, who caught the ball on the sideline, only to cut back and get linebacker Benardrick McKinney to slide past him. He then got a great block by Seth Roberts on Bouye and raced to the end zone.
It was not pretty, but Carr is a huge reason the Raiders are sitting at 8-2 and atop the AFC West. Oakland have clinched their first non-losing season since 2002, when they finished the season in the Super Bowl. Carr shook off his bad interception and was never flustered thanks to the encouragement he received from teammates on the sideline.
"There was never a doubt in our minds," Carr told ESPN. "It's just who's going to make a play? We just go out there, trust what our coaches are telling us and just believe."
REFEREES STRUGGLE AGAIN
There were several controversial plays and most of them went against the Texans. Houston receiver DeAndre Hopkins thought he had a 60-yard touchdown on the game's opening series, but he was ruled out of bounds at the Raiders 36-yard line. Though replays showed that Hopkins never stepped out, because the officials had blown their whistles, they play was not reviewable. Instead of getting a touchdown, the Texans settled for a 32-yard Nick Novak field goal.
The biggest blunder that went against the Texans was a poor spot on a fourth-and-inches run in the fourth quarter. Texans coach Bill O'Brien passed up a chance to kick a 32-yard field goal to potentially give his team a 23-20 lead with six minutes remaining. Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler handed it off to Akeem Hunt, who lunged forward and appeared to pick up the first down. The ball was spotted short and, even after O'Brien challenged the spot as replays showed Hunt got the ball past the yard to gain, a replay review did not give Houston the first down.
"We went for it. Thought we had it. I thought it was clear that we had it," O'Brien said. "They said the call on the field stands, so I don't know."
What we do know is that the Texans (6-4) are in trouble if they cannot win on the road. They are still in first place in the AFC South, but are now 1-4 on the road. The Raiders, however, appear to be a serious contender to the New England Patriots in the AFC, thanks to their MVP quarterback.