OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—JaMarcus Russell threaded passes to Johnnie Lee Higgins, Chaz Schilens and Zach Miller. Higgins showed off his game-breaking ability on another punt return and Darren McFadden got involved in the offense early.
As another disappointing season nears its conclusion, some of the younger Oakland Raiders tried to show there could be reason for optimism in the future.
Higgins caught one of Russell’s two touchdown passes and returned a punt 80 yards for another score, leading the Raiders to a 27-16 victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday.
“You saw a lot of our young players show up and had an impact,” interim coach Tom Cable said. “As I’ve said for a while, that’s the future of our organization and that’s the direction we’re headed. It was a complete victory.”
The Raiders gained a season-high 362 yards, with 252 coming from players in their first or second year in the NFL.
It’s the first time since the 2002 Super Bowl season the Raiders won their final home game. The rest of the year has been much of the same losing for Oakland (4-11), which became the first team in NFL history to drop at least 11 games for six straight seasons.
The Texans (7-8) had won four straight for the first time in team history and were hoping for their first winning season. But Houston could generate little against the lowly Raiders and were unable to follow up on last week’s win over Tennessee.
“We were looking forward to having the first winning season in our history,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. “When you play the way we played last week, with a big win over a big team, you have to find a way to play with the same effort, and we didn’t do it.”
By beating the Texans for the first time in four tries, the Raiders are assured of not tying Tampa Bay for the most losses in any six-year period. Oakland is 23-72 since the beginning of the 2003 season.
“I know what we’re doing right now, but in the years to come how good can we be?” asked Russell. “I think out there those guys are showing it.”
This was one of the Raiders’ best performances of the year. They scored touchdowns on the opening possessions of each half for the first time in more than seven years, got two touchdown passes from Russell, recovered an onside kick and scored on Higgins’ punt return.
Russell finished 18-for-25 for 236 yards and no interceptions in one of the best performances of his young career. McFadden gained 87 yards from scrimmage and Miller added four more catches for 70 yards.
Russell capped the opening drive with a 20-yard pass to Schilens, just the second TD on an opening drive for Oakland in the past 56 games.
Russell then connected with Higgins on a 29-yard score on Oakland’s first drive of the third quarter to make it 20-13. Higgins celebrated that touchdown with one of his end-zone dances and got a chance to do another after Oakland stopped Houston on the succeeding drive. Higgins fielded a punt at the 20 and ran right through the Texans for his third punt return TD this season, one shy of the NFL record.
“I feel like I’m explosive,” said Higgins, who has five touchdowns this season longer than 50 yards. “You never know what can happen. You know, it looks like he’s tackled, it looks like he’s down. Oh, he’s gone. It looks like he can’t catch it, like he can’t do this. … There he goes. So I look at myself, I always look at myself as a playmaker.”
The Texans got a field goal from Kris Brown early in the fourth quarter and had a chance to get even closer following a fumble by Russell at the 14. But with Houston needing 1 yard for a first down, Matt Schaub threw incompletions on third and fourth down to end the comeback bid.
Schaub was 19-for-36 for 255 yards and an interception, but connected only twice with NFL leading receiver Andre Johnson. Johnson came into the game with 103 receptions, but didn’t catch his first pass until early in the fourth quarter. He finished with two catches for 19 yards.
“It was a frustrating entire game, not making the plays we’re capable of making, and we’ve been able to make,” Schaub said. “We make those plays on a regular basis, and then when you go out there and you don’t do it, that’s tough to swallow.”
Raiders Pro Bowl CB Nnamdi Asomugha left the game in the fourth quarter with a sore neck. … Oakland scored TDs on the opening drive of both halves for the first time Oct. 7, 2001, against Dallas. … Houston allowed its first punt return TD since Tennessee’s Adam “Pacman” Jones did it Oct. 29, 2006. … Texans TE Owen Daniels had seven catches for 111 yards.