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What we learned: Raiders' aerial attack delivers win

Buoyed by a pair of long touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the 8-2 Oakland Raiders pulled off a 27-20 comeback victory over the 6-4 Houston Texans in Mexico City. Here's what we learned during the Week 11 edition of Monday Night Football:

  1. Bogged down by sloppy footing on the Azteca Stadium turf, a spate of wide-receiver drops and a disruptive Jadeveon Clowney, the Raiders' offense carried a season-low 81 yards into halftime. It wasn't until the 7,503-foot altitude (roughly 2,000 feet higher than Denver's Sports Authority Field at Mile High) took its toll on both defenses that Oakland found success in the aerial attack. A gassed Houston defense couldn't corral fullback Jamize Olawale and wideout Amari Cooper in the open field on 75- and 35-yard scores, respectively. Prior to Cooper's touchdown near the five-minute mark in the fourth quarter, he and Michael Crabtree had combined for just 27 yards on six receptions and 11 targets. Of Derek Carr's 295 passing yards, 170 came after the catch -- the majority on three fourth-quarter plays.
  1. The Texans will have plenty to gripe about in a hard-fought contest. The controversy started on the game's opening possession when DeAndre Hopkins took a short pass down the sideline 60 yards to the house, only to be ruled out of bounds after 24 of those yards. The line judge blew his whistle when he thought Hopkins' heel stepped out of bounds. Replays were inconclusive. Houston ended up settling for a field goal instead of the Hopkins touchdown.

After Olawale's touchdown tied the score at 20 early in the fourth quarter, the Texans appeared to reach the line-to-gain on Lamar Miller's third-and-2 run as well as Akeem Hunt's fourth-and-1 plunge on back-to-back plays in the red zone. Officials neglected to grant the benefit of the doubt on either spot. It wasn't until Hunt's play that Houston coach Bill O'Brien opted to challenge the spot, only to be denied. Lost in the confusion was O'Brien's gamble to eschew the go-ahead field goal -- even more of a head-scratcher in contrast to his decision to punt the ball back to Oakland down seven points with just over three minutes remaining.

  1. Whereas O'Brien died by those fourth-down calls, Jack Del Rio continues to grant his team new life with his own celebrated "onions" in close-and-late situations. Up 27-20 with just over a minute remaining, Del Rio opted to play keep-away, running Latavius Murray on fourth-and-1 from Oakland's 39-yard line. Murray sealed yet another exhilarating Raiders victory with a 6-yard gain. One of the stories of the 2016 season has been the trend toward increased aggressiveness in fourth-and-short situations.
  1. Among all starting NFL receivers, Hopkins entered Week 11 with the lowest passer rating on throws in his direction this season. After joining DeSean Jackson as the only rookies in the Super Bowl era to start their careers with back-to-back 100-yard receiving games, Will Fuller has totaled just 178 yards in six games since.

Although Fuller has battled leg injuries over the past month, the larger issue is an aerial attack that has neglected playmaking wide receivers in favor of shorter, more reliable passes to tight ends C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin and Stephen Anderson. Whether Osweiler manages to salvage his Houston career, his utter inefficiency on intermediate and downfield throws is ill-suited to the team's most valuable skill-position talent.

  1. Veteran nose tackle Vince Wilfork raised a few eyebrows when he opined to the Monday Night Football broadcast team that Clowney is Houston's best defensive player "even when we have J.J. Watt." Now second only to Aaron Donald with 12 tackles for loss this season, Clowney almost single-handedly shut down the Raiders' ground attack with a tremendous first-half performance. Although Clowney has emerged as a dominant force in the run game, he remains a work in progress as a pass rusher. To suggest he's on par with Watt is an outlandish insult to the three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
  1. Beyond the shaky footing in Azteca Stadium, exporting American football south of the border brought another unique challenge. ESPN cameras showed a laser being directed at the helmet of multiple Texans players, including Osweiler. "Stadium security is aware of the issue," an NFL spokesman told at halftime. Osweiler called it "distracting" but said it didn't influence the outcome of the game.
  1. At 8-2 in a competitive AFC West, the Raiders now boast a full-game advantage on the 7-3 Broncos and Chiefs. They host Carolina and Buffalo the next two weeks, then hit the road for divisional tilts in Kansas City and San Diego. Oakland welcomes Indianapolis in Week 16 before a big season finale at Denver.

The Texans' heartbreaking loss diminishes their AFC South lead to one game over the 5-5 Colts and 1.5 games over the 5-6 Titans. They host the Chargers this week, then travel to Green Bay and Indianapolis. Houston closes out the season with a pair of home games against Jacksonville and Cincinnati before an all-important finale in Nashville versus the Titans.

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