ALAMEDA, Calif. — Khalil Mack has given the Oakland Raiders a motto to live by this season: By any means.
No matter what hurdles have presented themselves, the Raiders have proved adept at dealing with them.
Three early starts in the first four weeks. A full week in Florida between road games. A "home" game at high altitude in Mexico City.
Then came the latest example on Sunday against Carolina. The Raiders came into the game on a short week after beating Houston in Mexico City, while the Panthers had extra time off following a Thursday game.
Quarterback Derek Carr then hurt the pinkie on his throwing hand on the second play of the second half, helping spur 25 straight points by the Panthers before Carr led a late comeback and Mack sealed the 35-32 win Sunday with a strip sack.
By any means.
"I've even borrowed it a couple of times. It rubs off," coach Jack Del Rio said Monday. "You like it, right? It makes sense. Because whatever we have to do, by any means. It's awesome and it's really been what we've been about."
The Raiders (9-2) have lived by that motto to move to the top of the standings in the AFC. They lead Kansas City by one game in the division and are tied with New England for the best record in the conference.
Not that it has come easy. Seven of the nine wins have come by seven points or fewer and Carr has led five fourth-quarter comebacks already this season. The latest came Sunday when he came back from the injury to tie the game midway through the fourth quarter with a TD pass to Clive Walford and a 2-point conversion to Seth Roberts and then won it with an 82-yard drive to set up Sebastian Janikowski's game-winning field goal.
"One of the things I really love about the NFL is the extreme highs and lows and we got a good dose of those yesterday," Del Rio said. "Always best when you finish with a win."
It's just the latest clutch performance from Carr, who has thrived under pressure this season. He has completed 80 of 118 passes (67.8 percent) for 1,109 yards (9.4 yards per attempt), 10 TDs, one interception and a 122.5 passer rating when tied or trailing in the fourth quarter or overtime.
The latest comeback might have been most impressive because of the pain he dealt with after jamming his finger on a fumbled snap. He managed to come back in after missing one series with a glove on his right hand and taking all snaps from the shotgun and there seemed to be no long-term effects from the injury.
"I'm doing good. I'm doing good," Carr said Monday on his weekly appearance on 95.7 The Game radio station . "Obviously it's a little sore, but that's expected. But should be good. Just get some swelling down and we'll be all right."
The Raiders are counting on that if they want to end a 13-year playoff drought and make a run come January. They already are having their best season since winning the AFC in 2002 and have realistic hopes of doing much more.
First they will have to negotiate a tough closing stretch to the season starting with a home game against Buffalo on Sunday. Oakland then has three road division games in the final four weeks, including a Thursday night game against the second-place Chiefs on Dec. 8, as well as the home finale against Indianapolis on Christmas Eve.
But those are on the back burner for now.
"Right now everything we're doing is all about Buffalo," Del Rio said. "It's all about Buffalo leading up to this weekend."