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Raiders, Derek Carr beat Chargers, clinch first playoff berth since 2002

SAN DIEGO -- Qualcomm Stadium, clothed in so much silver and black from marauding Oakland Raiders fans who took over the place on Sunday, played host to another kind of coronation.

With the 19-16 survival -- yes, that’s what it was -- against the San Diego Chargers in front of a sold-out crowd, the Raiders clinched their first playoff berth since the 2002 season.

Yes, in the same building in which they played their last postseason game: Super Bowl XXXVII.

Let that sink in for a minute.

"Proud of that," said Raiders coach Jack Del Rio. "But we have designs on more."

Plus, the Raiders, who improved to 11-3, also wrested back control of the AFC West and a potential first-round bye with the win and the Kansas City Chiefs’ loss earlier in the day at home to the Tennessee Titans.

All of this despite an uncharacteristically sloppy look from the offense.

Still, it was Derek Carr's seventh winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime of the season, his 11th since the start of the 2015 season and the 12th of his three-year career.

Sure, the luster may have come off his MVP candidacy with two straight uneven games, and he took every snap from either the shotgun or pistol formations for the third straight game after dislocating his right pinkie finger on an errant snap on Nov. 27.

"Just win; that's what we say," said Carr, who passed for 213 yards and a touchdown and an interception while completing 19 of 30 attempts and getting sacked twice.

"Stats are fun for people to look at and try to compare, but we just want to win. ... We said we're going to make the playoffs and we're going to do certain things. We put a vision out there."

Carr said he has no limitations and was working on taking snaps from under center before the game, though the Raiders chose to err on the side of caution by keeping him back.

But Carr is key to the Raiders’ playoff hopes now and aspirations that include a home playoff game and an accompanying bye as a division champ. Win out, against the Indianapolis Colts on Christmas Eve in Oakland and at the Denver Broncos on New Year’s Day, and the Raiders will have accomplished that goal.

Two years after going 3-13.

The Raiders did not make things easy on themselves with two turnovers inside the Chargers’ 10-yard line in the first half -- a Latavius Murray fumble and a Carr interception -- but they had enough left to drive down for Sebastian Janikowski's 44-yard game-winning field goal with 2:30 to play.

"I can't even describe it," said Janikowski, the lone Raiders player who has playoff experience with Oakland, of the Raiders clinching a bid to the Super Bowl tournament.

"It feels so special. I've waited a long time for that."

And the Raiders’ much-maligned defense again came up huge late; Bruce Irvin with a key sack of Philip Rivers before Reggie Nelson picked Rivers off on fourth-and-15 to essentially end the game with Khalil Mack in Rivers' face.

"I love it," said Nelson, who has a team-leading four interceptions. "Without the pressure, it wouldn't have happened. ... [They] did a tremendous job today putting pressure on Philip and got him off the spot."

But for the game to end, Carr had to kneel down. Yes, out of the pistol.

The Raiders purportedly need his finger to heal enough for him to take snaps from under center in the playoffs to give opposing defenses something else to think about.

Oakland. In the playoffs. Again, let that sink in.