Oakland holds off Houston on emotional day after honoring Al Davis; San Francisco dismantles Tampa Bay for best start in nine years
HOUSTON — Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis was honored before kickoff Sunday with a moment of silence and having his first name within a black shield affixed to the helmet of every player who took the field for the team he constructed.
Then the Raiders went out and beat the Houston Texans 25-20, with plenty of help from some players brought on board by the man with a well-earned reputation of doing things his own way.
Sebastian Janikowski, whose selection with the 17th pick in the first round of the 2000 NFL draft was panned — a place-kicker in the first round? — kicked field goals 54, 55, 50 and 42 yards.
"That's his guy," coach Hue Jackson said. "There's no question, this is his football team. Trust me when I tell you, this is Coach Davis' football team, and I'm just getting an opportunity to run it and lead it."
Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, a size-speed project criticized as being a reach with the No.B 7 overall pick in 2009, caught seven passes for 99 yards and a 34-yard touchdown reception from Jason Campbell before halftime that got a sluggish offense off the mat.
"He's a great man, and I appreciate everything he did for me," Heyward-Bey said. "He's up there, watching over us."
The Raiders nearly squandered a 25-17 lead when Houston's Neil Rackers kicked a 40-yard field goal with 2:56 left and quarterback Matt Schaub hit a 34-yard pass to Joel Dreessen on third-and-23 to the 5-yard line, then spiked the ball to stop the clock.
Time for one more play, one last chance for the Texans to improve to 4-1.
Taking the ball in the shotgun formation, Schaub initially couldn't find a receiver, then veered to his left. There appeared to be some open space toward the goal line. Safety Tyvon Branch closed too fast, however.
"I saw nothing but green grass over there," Branch said. "I couldn't let him get into the end zone."
Schaub, with Branch between him and the goal line, improvised with a backhanded flip toward wide receiver Jacoby Jones.
"I'm not the kind of guy who's going to make a move and make someone miss," Schaub said.
It was intercepted by Michael Huff, the No. 7 overall pick by Davis of the 2006 NFL draft and whose contract was renewed by the owner before the lockout for four years and as much as $32 million.
"I wouldn't be here without him," Huff said.
There is uncertainty about how things will play out off the field over the next several weeks after Davis' death early Saturday.
The present, however, with a 3-2 record over a difficult five-game stretch, to be followed by home games against Cleveland, Kansas City and Denver with a bye before the Broncos game, has the potential of something special.
"Last year, we probably would have lost this game, but we grew up as a team, we continued to fight," defensive tackle Richard Seymour said. "It's good to see it right before your eyes, some young guys making plays for you."
Seymour, who had two sacks and played a role in holding the Houston running game to 70 yards on 25 carries, arrived in 2009 with Davis trading a first-round draft pick for a defensive tackle on the back end of his career.
The way the Raiders came out offensively, it appeared they were more likely to finish with an ode to the past eight years than with an emotion-charged victory.
They didn't get a single first down until 1:46 remained in the first half on an 18-yard Campbell pass to Heyward-Bey. That drive ended in the 34-yard touchdown pass to Heyward-Bey when he broke a tackle by Jason Allen and raced down the sideline for the score.
Campbell missed a deep throw to Chaz Schilens and threw an interception on a deep ball out of his end zone. But the player Davis compared to two-time Raiders Super Bowl winner Jim Plunkett made enough plays for the Raiders to win, and threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Schilens early in the fourth quarter for a 22-17 lead.
"Starting out, things aren't going your way, and it's like, 'What's going on?'" Campbell said. "Everybody said we'll get our breaks. Keep fighting. And that's what we did."
Oakland was within 14-6 at halftime because of Janikowski field goals of 54 and 55 yards set up by a Lamarr Houston interception and a blocked punt by Bruce Davis.
Davis, son of the former Raiders tackle by the same name, was signed off the 49ers' practice squad last year.
"Al gave two generations of Davis men the opportunity to wear silver and black and just to live out our dreams," Bruce Davis said. "As a kid, I always wanted to be a Raider, and my career was going downward before I got here.
"When they decided to pick me up, Al called me himself. To be a second-generation Raider it meant a lot to go out there and honor his memory."