Gutsy call lifts Raiders past Saints, 35-34
By BRETT MARTEL
NEW ORLEANS (AP) For Oakland coach Jack Del Rio, calling for a do-or-die, 2-point conversion was less a gamble than a philosophical declaration.
Del Rio had no interest in a conservative point-after kick, and let his offense know it well before the decision had to be made. So when Derek Carr hit Seth Roberts for a 10-yard touchdown to cut New Orleans lead to a single point with 47 seconds left, kicker Sebastian Janikowski stood far from the action, helmet at his side, watching as Carr delivered a decisive fade pass to Michael Crabtree for a 35-34, season opening victory Sunday.
"Everyone knew about our strategy," said Del Rio, now in his second season with Oakland. "I didn't really ask for any feedback there. I said, `When we score here, we are going to go for 2 and win it right here.'"
His Raiders had already demonstrated considerable resolve just to get to that point.
Oakland had to overcome a 14-point, second-half deficit and a 424-yard, four-touchdown performance by Drew Brees.
"The belief and trust that coach has in us gives us so much confidence," Carr said.
Brees called the late 2-point try gutsy, but not surprising.
"You'll see that from time to time. You feel like you have the momentum, and let's dial it up and let's win the game," Brees said. "I could see us doing that."
FURIOUS FINISH: After the Raiders took their late lead, they still had to sweat out rookie kicker Wil Lutz's last-second field goal attempt from 61 yards, which narrowly missed wide left as the Superdome crowd briefly erupted before realizing the kick was no good.
"I thought it was good off my foot," Lutz said. "The ball moved on me."
But Brees marched New Orleans for another score, highlighted by a 57-yard completion that receiver Willie Snead fumbled and rookie wideout Michael Thomas recovered and advanced to the Oakland 2. That set up Travaris Cadet's short touchdown catch, giving New Orleans a 34-27 lead.
New Orleans nearly held on, but Saints linebacker Craig Robertson was flagged for interference on a fourth-down pass that sailed out of bounds.
"I'm not going to start the season off complaining about the officials. We have to play better," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "That was just one play."
BIG NUMBERS: Brees eclipsed 400 yards passing for the 14th time in his career, tying Peyton Manning for the most such performances in NFL history. Snead finished with nine catches for 172 yards, including fourth-down, 1-yard TD catch in the first half.
Carr finished with 319 yards and one touchdown passing against a Saints defense coached by his former Raiders head coach, Dennis Allen. The Raiders rushed for 167 yards, including touchdown runs of 6 yards by Latavius Murray and 2 yards by Jamize Olawale.
RECORD TD: Brees' touchdowns included a franchise-record 98-yarder to Brandin Cooks, who beat Sean Smith in single coverage and raced away from free safety Reggie Nelson. It was a career-long passing play for Brees as well.
"Brandin got a great release, I threw it up to him and he did the rest," Brees said. "He looked like Usain Bolt running down the sideline there."
Previously, Billy Joe Hobert and Eddie Kennison owned the Saints' longest scoring play - a 90-yard connection against Atlanta on Oct. 10, 1999. The Saints' previous longest play from scrimmage was as 96-yard passing play from Billy Kilmer to Walter Roberts on Nov. 19, 1967, the franchise's inaugural season.
COOPED UP: Cooper, familiar to fans in the Gulf South from his college days at Alabama, elicited cheers of, "Cooop!" from an audible contingent of Raiders fans in the Superdome with a couple receptions for long gains. He finished with six catches for 137 yards.
CAREER KICKOFF: Lutz made two of four field goal attempts - missing twice from 50 or more yards - in his NFL debut. Payton made the surprising move of cutting veteran incumbent kicker Kai Forbath in favor of Lutz this past week after the undrafted rookie out of Georgia State had been waived by Baltimore. Lutz hit his first field goal from 42 yards. He also handled kickoffs and hit a 20-yard field goal that was tipped.
"I like this guy a lot," Payton said of Lutz. "He's going to be kicking long after I am coaching here. He's really talented. There are obviously going to be some bumps along the way."
INJURIES: Raiders right tackle Menelik Watson left the game late in the first half with what team officials said was a groin pull. Saints starting cornerback Delvin Breaux left the game with an undisclosed lower left leg injury. He was replaced by undrafted rookie Ken Crawley, who was covering Crabtree on the decisive 2-point play.
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Updated September 11, 2016