More and more, the Carson Palmer trade looks like the impetus for the Raiders to make the postseason for the first time since 2002. Certainly, Palmer was the difference in Sunday’s 25-20 victory against the Chicago Bears.
The Raiders were without some significant players — running back Darren McFadden and receivers-kick returners Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore. But Palmer picked up the slack with a 301-yard passing game that put the Raiders in position for six field goals and — finally! — one touchdown.
Michael Bush can be a big factor against a defense that is soft against the run — the San Diego Chargers come to mind — but the Bears are tough run defenders. Because Bush is not at all deceptive, he got swallowed up by the Bears, gaining only 69 yards on 24 carries. Because McFadden is so good in the open field, he would have forced the Bears to make some adjustments. Without him in the lineup, they could just load up and stop Bush.
That put the spotlight on Palmer. He faced an often ferocious pass rush — the Bears sacked him four times — but he still made some big throws. The biggest was a 47-yard pass down the right sideline to Louis Murphy in the fourth quarter, setting up a 3-yard run by Bush for the team’s lone touchdown.
That’s what Palmer gives the Raiders: a quarterback who can make all the throws and carry the offense when he has to. They weren’t going to get anything close to that with Kyle Boller, who would have been the quarterback if Hue Jackson hadn’t made the gambling trade for Palmer.
Jackson paid a high price — a first-round draft choice in 2012 and a second-rounder in 2013 which becomes a first-rounder if the Raiders are in the AFC Championship game in either of the next two years. But it was a gamble he had to take, especially for a franchise whose motto is “Just Win, Baby.” When you’ve got the talent to make the playoffs, you have to have a quarterback who can take advantage of that.
Just ask the Bears. They were in the NFC Championship last year with Jay Cutler as their quarterback. Now, they have Caleb Hanie, who was making his first NFL start.
Hanie showed a strong and accurate arm at times, hitting Johnny Knox on a perfectly timed slant pass for the first touchdown (credit offensive coordinator Mike Martz for calling the perfect play against a Raiders blitz) and an 81-yard pass to Knox when the Raiders went brain-dead in the fourth quarter.
Let’s see: Time is running out, the Bears are backed up against their goal line. Sure, they’re going to just run into the line. Who would ever have guessed that they would throw the ball?
But Hanie also threw three interceptions in the first half. On one of them, he had an open receiver, but didn’t spot him in time, so Stanford Routt made the interception. In college, a quarterback usually has time to spot a receiver.
Not in the NFL.
Hanie may eventually learn that, but Palmer already has. He’s the quarterback his coach wanted, and right now, it seems he’ll lead them to the postseason.