HOUSTON – The children of Al Davis wept.
Foremost in that group was Davis' biological son, Mark. In the tunnel beneath the stands at Reliant Stadium, Mark Davis celebrated the Oakland Raiders' dramatic 25-20 win over the Houston Texans by hugging every player he saw, present and past. Davis didn't have much to say in the aftermath of his father's death on Saturday morning. He didn't need to say much; the damp creases under his puffy eyes said it all.
Nearby, Amy Trask, Davis' longtime right-hand woman in the operation of the team, fought back her emotions after being in the highly charged locker room. She wore oversized sunglasses for her dainty face, but not even that could hide the redness around her eyes.
"I just need a moment to gather myself," Trask begged as she was approached by a reporter. "It has been a really emotional couple of days."
On the field, coach Hue Jackson had dropped to one knee after the final play, an interception by Michael Huff(notes) in the end zone to deny Houston a last-second victory. In the locker room, the tears kept flowing for Jackson, and some players talked about Davis in present tense, as if he were still alive.
[ Video: Hue Jackson's emotional postgame speech ]
Most important, they all shared one distinction: They were here because of Davis. Unlike any other team in the league, where scouts and coach and executives haggle over the roster while the owner observes largely from a distance, the Raiders were built from a central figure. Davis synthesized everything and made all the calls on who made the roster, even more so than Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones.
Davis also usually made a lot of calls on game day, be it over who was active or how the defense was called. In that way, there was an obvious emptiness to the Raiders that will take a while to sort out and fill. Who's going to make the final call on cutting or fining a player? Who's going to negotiate contract extensions? Who's going to do so many things required in the day-to-day operation of the team?
"We'll sort that out later," Jackson said after the game. "Right now, we're just going to help the Davis family get through this."
That family extends well beyond son Mark and wife Carol, who is also in declining health, according to a source with the organization. Many Oakland employees had this slightly lost look on their face Sunday, as if the center of their universe had been disrupted. Perhaps that's just the reality of the situation. Davis could be many things to the people he hired, including a verbally abusive and sometimes paranoid tyrant when things were not to his liking. But he was also fiercely loyal to those who gave him what he asked.
"The thing I noticed about this place when I got here is how many of the old Raiders come around," defensive end Richard Seymour(notes) said. "It's almost like a collegiate atmosphere and that's how Al wanted it."
On Sunday, the team did its best to calm the situation by doing the thing Davis wanted above all: just win. This game was a signature Davis victory topped by a signature play as Huff, a former first-round pick, snared the short pass by Houston's Matt Schaub(notes). Davis loved his defensive backs, and Huff, who had been limited in practice last week, came through with a clutch play that Davis would have adored.
"This was all for him," Huff said, referring to Davis. "As I came down to the ground with the ball, I just felt him right there. He gave us everything he could. He gave us all a chance, he handpicked every person on this team, every person in this organization. You talk to guys for other teams and it's this guy or that guy, maybe a scout or a coach who was the one behind them. Here, it was all Al."
Besides Huff, so many other players who Davis picked up recently in controversial moves came up big for him. Seymour, who Davis acquired from New England in a 2009 trade for a first-round pick even though many people thought Seymour was past his prime, had two sacks and a total of three hits on Schaub. He also had two of the defensive line's six deflections of throws by Schaub, who couldn't seem to find the field through the forest of Raiders in front of him.
There was kicker Sebastian Janikowski(notes), who Davis took with a first-round pick in 2000, a seemingly absurd move in a league where kickers are consistently found in the fifth round or lower. Janikowski tied an NFL record with three field goals of 50 yards or longer and had another of 42 yards that forced the Texans into a must-score-TD situation.
There was wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey(notes), the No. 7 overall pick in 2009 who has done little to justify that selection. Yet even he contributed in a huge way with a career-high seven catches for 99 yards. Most important, Heyward-Bey and quarterback Jason Campbell(notes) connected on a critical blitz read, Heyward-Bey breaking off his route to snare a short throw and then breaking a tackle to score Oakland's first touchdown just before halftime.
Heyward-Bey, who has taken plenty of heat for his failures but always was defended by Davis, talked about the late owner as if he was in the next room.
"We do everything for Mr. Davis because he does everything for us," Heyward-Bey said.
Heyward-Bey was asked about why he was discussing Davis in present tense.
"Because he's right here with us and always will be."
On to this week's other winners and losers …
• Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith keeps proving that sometimes the best moves are the ones you don't make. At the end of last season, Smith was ready to depart Carolina after playing the first 10 years of his career there. Smith was upset when head coach John Fox was fired and it looked like the Panthers were completely starting over. Well, with Cam Newton(notes) aboard, the Panthers may only be 1-4, but their losses have each been by a touchdown or less. That includes coming up short against New Orleans on Sunday. As for Smith, he's playing out of his mind with 27 receptions for 609 yards and three touchdowns. That includes his three-catch, 79-yard, one-score performance on Sunday. And for good measure, Smith was even involved in a fracas Sunday.
[ Related: Steve Smith retaliates after late hit from Saints ]
• Speaking of receivers who had great days, the Kansas City Chiefs' Dwayne Bowe(notes) came up big with seven catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns. That included a 5-yard scoring grab that showed off some of the best concentration you will see as he tipped the ball multiple times while he was falling before gaining control of the ball.
• San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith deserves some big credit for how he has played all season. Smith led the 49ers to a blowout win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with three touchdown passes. While he completed only 11 of 19 passes for 170 yards, Smith continued to avoid the mistakes that have plagued him throughout his career. Through five games, he has seven TD passes. More importantly, he has only one interception. He has upped his stats to a career-high 66.4 completion rate so far this season, as well as a career-high 7.5 yards per attempt. Combined with the low interception total, Smith is making it look like he might have a real future in San Francisco after so many people thought he was a placeholder for rookie Colin Kaepernick(notes).
• It's hard to argue that anyone in the NFL is a better all-around back right now than either Arian Foster(notes) of Houston or Darren McFadden(notes) of Oakland. Sure, Adrian Peterson is still the premier runner in the league, but he doesn't catch like Foster or McFadden, who lined up at wide receiver on a few occasions Sunday for Oakland. However, the Buffalo Bills' Fred Jackson(notes) isn't a bad knockoff of those guys and his latest effort was another great example. Buffalo hasn't quite built their offense around Jackson, who combined for 196 offensive yards and scored a touchdown.
• Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing(notes) is doing his best to wipe out the memories of a mediocre 2010 season. Cushing suffered after he was suspended for violating the league's performance-enhancing policy, which fed concerns and rumors about him from college. Now a year removed from all of that talk, Cushing is playing like the Rookie of the Year he was in 2009. At one point against Oakland, he had a bloody face, finished with eight tackles, including a sack and another for a loss. He also had one nasty hit on quarterback Jason Campbell and a pass defensed. It was for naught, but it was impressive.
• Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Pierre Garcon(notes) has been a big winner since the Colts went to Curtis Painter(notes) at quarterback. In two games with Painter as the starter, Garcon has seven catches for 271 yards and four touchdowns. Not that Garcon was awful before that (12 catches, 149 yards and zero scores in the first three games), but he has been sensational since Painter took over. Sadly, Garcon's efforts continue to go to waste as the Colts dropped to 0-5 after blowing a 24-7 lead to Kansas City.
• I'm officially off the Dream Team bandwagon and probably deserve to be ripped for staying on it this long. I must now join everyone else in saying the simple truth: This team stinks. In losing to Buffalo, the Eagles had five more turnovers, including four interceptions from Michael Vick(notes). The Eagles quarterback doesn't get all the blame for the interceptions (one of them was tipped), but he was awful. There were plenty of others who contributed to the defeat. Wide receiver Jason Avant(notes) had a fumble. Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo is proving to be one of the worst hires in the history of coaching maneuvers. If head coach Andy Reid, who made the terrible decision to dump Sean McDermott (not great, but not an idiot), doesn't demote Castillo soon, there should be an insurrection. As for Reid, enough is enough with the offensive line play. It's too late to change things this season, but owner Jeff Lurie better demand that Reid run a more run-based, bullish attack or he should simply fire Reid (probably the latter). It's time for a serious scored-earth approach in Philly, which I'm sure the fans there will be all too happy to go along with.
• Staying in the NFC East, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning(notes) continues to be an enigma. Manning threw three touchdowns and three interceptions against a Seattle team that shouldn't have even been competitive in this game, let alone the winner. Manning's final throw, which was an interception off a deflection, was completely his fault because he threw way behind his intended target. Over his past 21 games, Manning has 30 interceptions. That's unacceptable for someone of his talent.
[ Related: Victor Cruz's amazing catch ]
• Watching the Denver Broncos waste another week with Kyle Orton(notes) as the starter, particularly when Tim Tebow(notes) came in and played pretty well in the second half. It makes me seriously want to call out coach John Fox. Look, I'm far from convinced that Tebow is the answer or if he ever will be the answer, but he can't be worse than watching Orton. Moreover, it would be nice to see the Broncos actually start a game with a plan to use Tebow as the center of the attack rather than put him in a desperation mode. Obviously, the calls for Tebow to start will be endless this week. It's time for Denver to let him play.
• Cross your fingers for Houston defensive end Mario Williams(notes), who had another sack in the first half against Oakland to give him five in the first five games this season. Williams left the game with a pectoral injury late in the first half. If the muscle is torn, Williams could miss the remainder of the season. Even if it's only a minor tear, Williams would be severely hindered.
•Arizona hasn't gotten the better of the Kevin Kolb(notes) deal as it joined the Eagles at 1-4. For anyone thinking that Vick shouldn't have been the starter (there are a handful of you out there), Kolb wouldn't have been an improvement. On Sunday, Kolb essentially handed Minnesota 14 points in the first quarter after Arizona went 3-and-out twice as the Vikings built a 28-0 lead and then cruised to victory over the woeful Cardinals. Kolb has had a few moments this season, but most of them have come when the Cardinals were behind and the defense was content to let him make a play or two.
• New York Jets coach Rex Ryan is a reporter's dream, but his defense has been a nightmare for most of this season. After giving up 30 to New England on Sunday (the Patriots could have had 40 if not for a TD pass that was dropped and intercepted, and some conservative play-calling at the end), New York has given up 30 or more in three straight games and 24 or more in four of five games. The only decent game the Jets D has had was that scrimmage in Week 2 against the junior varsity squad from Jacksonville.
• Anybody who went to see the Cincinnati-Jacksonville game, sorry, but that's three hours of your life you will never get back. Surprisingly, the game was relatively exciting, but that Benny Hill, comedy-of-errors play at the end was proof that this contest belonged as the first in a long list of undercard games. Yeah, yeah, the Bengals are 3-2 and have something promising with Andy Dalton(notes) and A.J. Green(notes), but that doesn't make them good yet.
• To all those fans who comb this column every week looking for a mention of your favorite team, here is something: This is not a high school sports column (or, as one editor put it to me long ago, it is not "phone book" journalism where the point is to mention as many names as possible to keep people happy). It is not intended to come up with a mention of every single team that wins or every single player who has a good day. It's about mentioning things that are interesting and unique, particularly given the circumstances going into a game or whatever unfolds as it plays out. In other words, as much as I think Aaron Rodgers(notes) is a great player who could arguably be the best quarterback in the league (and that's coming from a Stanford grad talking about a Cal alum), the fact that he threw for 400 yards, four touchdowns and ran for two more scores was nice last Sunday. It just wasn't that intriguing given that he was playing against Denver.
(FIVE THINGS I LOVED AND FIVE THINGS I LOATHED)
Loved: The isolation of television coverage in the New England-New York Jets game in which we got to see Patriots receiver Wes Welker(notes) run patterns against Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis(notes). It was like watching a football version of Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe going at it. Welker and Revis are so good at running and covering patterns that somebody should use this stuff as a training video.
Loathed: Oakland's decision to go for a 2-point conversion after a touchdown with 1:09 left in the first half. After closing to within 14-12, coach Hue Jackson got greedy. The Raiders failed on the attempt. Most people probably looked past this decision, but by the fourth quarter, Oakland built a 25-17 lead, making it a one-score game with 10 minutes left. It should have been a two-score game. Coaches should have a rule that, unless you're down by 24 points or more, you shouldn't go for it before the fourth quarter.
Loved: The Raiders' fake punt call at their own 37-yard line in the fourth quarter. The play caught Houston by surprise and kept the Texans' offense on the sideline even longer (not that the Texans were doing much in the second half).
Loathed: Staying with the Raiders for one last moment, right guard Cooper Carlisle(notes) not only cost the Raiders' offense (and running back Darren McFadden specifically) about 50 yards of offense, he committed one of the most obvious chop blocks you will ever see. It was such an obvious attempt to take out nose tackle Earl Mitchell's(notes) knee that Carlisle should be fined by the league. Brutal play.
Loved: The sign hanging at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte that read, "Yes We Cam" with a picture of Cam Newton's face. It has been only five games, but Newton has completely re-energized a franchise.
Loathed: How many times are we going to see horrible tackling from defensive backs? It's annoying to see so many defensive backs try to grab runners by the shoulders, hoping to pull them down, only to see the runner shed them like a sweatshirt. The only decent tackle I saw all day from a cornerback was Cortland Finnegan(notes) against Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace(notes) – and Tennessee was already way out of the game.
Loved: How hard the San Francisco 49ers played, even after they got a comfortable lead against Tampa Bay. The 49ers still have their issues (it's hard to know if Alex Smith is going to keep playing this effectively), but one thing is clear week after week: They are going to play with all-out effort. For those who didn't get a chance to see Jim Harbaugh coach at Stanford, this is the same thing he did when he was there and it has carried over to the 49ers.
Loathed: The bad snaps in shotgun formation that we saw in Houston, with quarterback Matt Schaub, and Jacksonville, with Blaine Gabbert(notes). After watching Dallas go through so many problems during Week 3 in its win over Washington, you'd think that teams would solve this issue.
Loved: Seeing Ben Roethlisberger(notes) get enough protection to throw five touchdown passes. After all the hits and turnovers Roethlisberger suffered in the first four games, it was nice to see this kind of game for him. It's fun watching him throw the deep ball.
Loathed: Watching Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez(notes) continue to struggle. By any measure, Sanchez isn't getting it done and it's time for Ryan to threaten Sanchez with his job, if not just take it away completely.
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- Hue Jackson
- Steve Smith