The San Diego Chargers know quite well how shoddy special teams can doom a team. They were happy to be on the receiving end of kicking woes for a change.
Nate Kaeding kicked five field goals in his first game back from a torn knee ligament and the Chargers capitalized on three botched punts following an injury to Oakland's long snapper to beat the Raiders 22-14 Monday night.
"A couple years back, we had some serious issues on our special teams," Kaeding said. "Pretty much everything. Kicks returned, punts blocked, that sort of thing. I can imagine you're going to see 31 other teams working a lot of backup long snappers come Wednesday. It's something a lot of teams honestly don't do a lot of. It's just one play away from someone having to go in there and get it done. It was unfortunate for them, obviously."
It was just two years ago that the Chargers allowed three kickoff returns for touchdowns, a punt return for a TD and had five punts blocked, ultimately costing them an AFC West title.
This time they got three field goals off the Raiders' punting problems to win the season opener.
"We've been in that situation. It makes it more complicated, it makes it tougher and we were able to take advantage of it," coach Norv Turner said.
Philip Rivers threw for 231 yards and a 6-yard touchdown to Malcom Floyd in a turnover-free game as San Diego won despite starting undrafted rookie Mike Harris at left tackle and missing starting running back Ryan Mathews and receiver Vincent Brown to injuries.
San Diego protected Harris by throwing short often with 16 of Rivers' 24 completions going to running backs and tight ends. Rivers was sacked just once and did not turn the ball over after having 20 interceptions a year ago.
"I've always tried to take care of the football and be smart, but you have to be able to manage the situation," Rivers said. "The situation today was our defence was playing good, our special teams is getting the ball. If you go back since I've been playing here and we don't turn the ball over, it's 90-something per cent we win. That was the key for the offence tonight."
Oakland had its own problems with injuries. The absence of deep-threat receivers Denarius Moore (hamstring) and Jacoby Ford (left foot) left Carson Palmer mostly throwing underneath to Darren McFadden, who caught a career-high 13 passes. A head injury to Pro Bowl long snapper Jon Condo in the second quarter proved to be even more significant when backup long snapper Travis Goethel had to fill in.
Early in the third quarter, the Raiders lined up to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the San Diego 48. But after a penalty for 12 men in the huddle, Oakland decided to punt. Goethel, who last snapped in high school, rolled one back to Lechler, who was tackled for a loss, giving San Diego the ball at the Raiders 39. That set up a 28-yard field goal by Kaeding.
After Oakland was stopped on its next drive, Lechler set up closer to Goethel, whose snap made it back in the air. But Dante Rosario broke through for the first block against Lechler since 2006 — a year before Condo joined the team. The Chargers once again had to settle for a short field goal and led 16-6 heading into the fourth quarter.
"It's pretty hard. It's hard snapping on the dirt, too. I've never snapped on the dirt before," Goethel said. "Trust me, I wish it never happened."
Goethel rolled another snap back early in the fourth quarter, once again giving San Diego the ball in Oakland territory, setting up Kaeding's career-high tying fifth field goal to make it 22-6. Lechler consoled Goethel as they walked off the field.
"A lot of people would have walked away from that idea," Lechler said. "I know he feels terrible. But he shouldn't."
Palmer finally got Oakland into the end zone with 54 seconds left on a 2-yard pass to rookie Rod Streater and the two connected for a 2-point conversion to make it 22-14. But San Diego recovered the onside kick and iced the game.
Palmer went 32 for 46 for 297 yards.
The Raiders had little trouble moving the ball in the first half, but could not get into the end zone and trailed 10-6 at the break.
Oakland gained 204 yards but settled for field goals of 51 and 19 yards by Sebastian Janikowski. Another prime scoring drive ended when Streater fumbled at the San Diego 29.
The Chargers used two long passes by Rivers and penalties by Oakland on their two scoring drives. Robert Meachem beat Ron Bartell on a 46-yard deep ball to set up Kaeding's 23-yard field goal in the first quarter.
Rivers hit Floyd on a 23-yarder on a drive that was extended by three Oakland penalties that gave San Diego a first down, including two offside penalties by Tommy Kelly on third down. Rivers capped the drive by escaping pressure and finding Floyd for a TD.