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Palmer brings back vertical game to Raiders’ offense

JOSH DUBOW
AP Sports Writer

ALAMEDA, Calif. – Carson Palmer completing deep balls as if he was Daryle “The Mad Bomber” Lamonica. Michael Bush bowling over defenders on his way to a career night. Kamerion Wimbley and a physical defensive line overpowering a banged-up San Diego offensive line.

Just days after some critics were writing off the Raiders after a second straight division loss, Oakland (5-4) stands alone in first place in the AFC West following a 24-17 victory at San Diego.

“It’s crazy, the NFL,” offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski said. “Shoot. Early in the year, everybody was talking about how good we are. And then (we’re horrible) after a couple of losses. And now we’re good again. It’s a heavily criticized job, but that’s the nature of the business.”

With Palmer hitting his stride just a few weeks after getting off his couch and joining the Raiders, Oakland is in prime position in a division that lacks an elite team. The Chargers (4-5) have lost four straight, Kansas City (4-4) lost last week to winless Miami and Denver (3-5) has struggled all season.

That’s despite losing starting quarterback Jason Campbell to a broken collarbone last month, being without leading rusher Darren McFadden for most of the past three games, missing two starters in the secondary in safety Michael Huff and cornerback Chris Johnson and having to reshuffle the offensive line in San Diego without center Samson Satele.

“Most teams, if you look at some of the guys we’ve lost, would turn their back, and curl up and call it a year,” coach Hue Jackson said. “But not this football team. That’s not how we’re built. We’re the Raiders.”

This was a prototypical Raiders game that late owner Al Davis would have loved. It had the powerful back dominating the running game with Bush getting 157 yards on 30 carries in place of McFadden. He added 85 yards receiving in the most prolific day for a Raiders player in terms of yards from scrimmage since 1963.

“When you have a guy that’s his size and plays as hard as he does, he just wears you down,” Palmer said. “‘He wears down the safeties. They don’t want to get back in coverage. They don’t want to turn and run quite as quickly as they can because they’re getting hit by a guy that’s 40 pounds, 50 pounds heavier than they are.”

There was the big-armed quarterback going deep repeatedly to speedy receivers like Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford. Palmer threw for 299 yards on just 20 attempts, with his 14.95 average breaking LaMonica’s team record for yards per attempt set in 1968 and being the fourth highest in the league since 2000.

Since throwing three interceptions in a relief effort in his Raiders debut Oct. 23, just five days after joining the team, Palmer is starting to hit his stride. He had an up-and-down second game with three touchdowns and three interceptions but was close to flawless against the Chargers.

He had a perfect passer rating through three quarters and his only interception came after he got hit following a blown blitz pickup by Bush. Palmer has brought the deep-strike pass back to Oakland with nine plays of at least 25 yards the past two weeks.

He is averaging 11.47 yards per attempt in his two starts, ahead of the record of 10.86 Sid Luckman set for Chicago in 1943, but expects to get even better with more time.