The Oakland Raiders sit atop the AFC West despite having to overcome injuries to multiple key players.
Coach Hue Jackson, though, knows his team’s position can change quickly, and he’s not overlooking Sunday’s road date with the troubled Minnesota Vikings.
Oakland (5-4) may own the worst record of any of the league’s division leaders, but just being in that position could be considered an accomplishment in itself.
Quarterback Jason Campbell(notes) suffered a broken collarbone in Week 6, forcing the Raiders to trade for Cincinnati holdout Carson Palmer(notes) and teach him the offense quickly. Then came injuries to star running back Darren McFadden(notes) (sprained foot) and receiver Jacoby Ford(notes) (ankle).
Last Thursday’s 24-17 victory over San Diego helped put the Raiders in first place this late in the season for the first time since 2002, when they made the franchise’s most recent playoff and Super Bowl appearance.
Jackson said there’s still plenty of work to be done, though.
“We also recognize as fast as you’re in first place you can be out of first place,” Jackson said. “You have to do everything you can to keep it and hold on to it, which is winning. There is no other avenue other than winning to stay where you are and I think our players understand that and we don’t have a lot of conversations about it, but I think we do respect and know where we are, know what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Palmer had his best performance in his three games with Oakland, going 14 of 20 for 299 yards and two touchdowns - both to Moore as part of his five-catch, 123-yard performance.
Bush scored and rushed for a season-high 157 yards - his most since a career-high 177 on Dec. 28, 2008, versus Tampa Bay - and added three catches for 85 yards. His 242 yards from scrimmage were the most by a Raider since 1963.
“It’s cool getting the ball but it’s what I’m supposed to do,” Bush said. “Running the ball, like I told the coach, `Just feed the stud.’ I told him that last week. Give me the ball and let’s see what we can do.”
Still, Jackson is hopeful McFadden - the NFL’s leading rusher at the time of his injury Oct. 23 versus Kansas City - can play Sunday.
“I know we’re getting closer to getting him back out here,” Jackson said. “I know he’s working his tail off. Until we get closer later on in the week and we know exactly where he is, I don’t want to speculate.”
While Oakland seems to be overcoming its obstacles, Minnesota continues to fade.
The Vikings (2-7) fell 45-7 to Green Bay on Monday, marking their worst loss since falling 41-0 to the New York Giants in the NFC championship game Jan. 14, 2001.
“We’ve got some issues we’ve got to get cleaned up. We’ve got to play better. They throttled us out there.”
Though Peterson was slowed in his last outing, the Raiders realize the importance of stopping the league’s fifth-leading rusher.
“He is as good as there is. He is a rare player,” Jackson said. “He is a really good young man, and a tremendous football player, loves playing the game, is as good as there is, so what a challenge for our defensive football team.”
Minnesota’s defense, meanwhile, is giving up 27.1 points per game - second-most in the NFL.
“You’ve got to figure out some things and try to get some things turned around,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “But for us right now, learning from this game and getting ready for the Oakland game is going to be the most important thing.”
One bright spot is the Vikings rank sixth in the league allowing 93.9 rushing yards per game as they’ll look to slow the Raiders’ running attack.
Oakland is fourth in the NFL averaging 156.2 yards, including a 145.5 average in the past two games without McFadden.
The Vikings won the most recent meeting against the Raiders, 29-22 on Nov. 18, 2007.