The Raiders are a long way from wrapping up their first division championship since 2002, but they can see what it takes to get there.
That much was clear after a 25-20 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday at O.co Coliseum, coming as it did against an opponent that reached its conference championship game last season and is the thick of the NFC playoff race.
Strapped offensively with the absence of three key playmakers, the Raiders utilized a franchise-record six field goals from Sebastian Janikowski and broke through with their first fourth-quarter points since Oct. 9, on a 3-yard run by Michael Bush with 3:47 to play for a 25-13 lead.
The Bears didn't go quietly. Because of a 9-yard touchdown pass from Caleb Hanie to Kellen Davis that was set up by an 81-yard Hanie-to-Johnny Knox pass, victory wasn't secured until an onside kick ended up in the arms of rookie tight end David Ausberry.
The Raiders improved to 7-4, remaining one game up on the Denver Broncos in the AFC West, while the Bears, at 7-4, seem hopelessly behind unbeaten Green Bay in the NFC North but are still in the hunt for a wild-card berth.
Winning a slugfest with key contributions from all three phases against a playoff caliber team keeps the Raiders on track for their stated goal of a division title. Even more gratifying -- it happened at home, where Oakland had been 2-3 and had lost its last two games.
"I think the confidence level of our team is going to grow, because I think they know they can play with anybody if they take care of business," Raiders coach Hue Jackson said.
Going into the game without running back Darren McFadden and wide receivers Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford because of injury, the Raiders found it difficult to finish off scoring opportunities, with Janikowski being the beneficiary.
Connecting from 40, 47, 42, 19, 37 and 44 yards without a miss, Janikowski broke a team record of five field goals (accomplished three times) that he shared with Jeff Jaeger (1994).
Quarterback Carson Palmer, who was 21 for 37 for 301 yards, wanted touchdowns but was more than willing to settle for points on the board against a tough Chicago defense.
The Bears, in their Cover 2 protective shell, often yield yards between the 20s and stiffen when the surface area becomes more compacted.
"That's a good defense," Palmer said. "Once they get backed up against the goal posts in the red zone, they're tough to get in the red zone. Fortunately we have Seabass, who can make field goals as automatic as anybody. We were heavily reliant on him today."
Hanie, the Bears quarterback for the foreseeable future with starter Jay Cutler out with a broken right thumb, was intercepted by Stanford Routt, Kamerion Wimbley and Michael Huff, with the Routt and Wimbley interceptions leading directly to field goals.
"When you're on the road, you can't turn the ball over like we did," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We've been winning most of the turnover battles. Losing today didn't help that case."
The Wimbley interception was a huge momentum shift, with the Bears set up at the Oakland 7 with a second-and-1 and 35 seconds left in the first half, poised to either take a 10-9 lead with a field goal or a 14-9 lead with a touchdown.
Instead, linebacker Aaron Curry anticipated a short pass to running back Matt Forte and knocked it into the air, where Wimbley intercepted and raced 73 yards to the Chicago 12 with 18 seconds to play.
A horse collar tackle by Chicago tackle Lance Louis got the ball to the 6, with the Raiders eventually settling for Janikowski's 19-yard field goal and a 12-7 halftime lead.
The Raiders controlled the second half with Janikowski's last two field goals and field position football furnished by punter Shane Lechler, who in the fourth quarter hammered a franchise record 80-yard punt over the head of Devin Hester into the end zone.
Chicago's statistics were deceiving, as the Bears rushed for 172 yards at 6.4 yards per carry, most of which came in a few big chunks with the Raiders making more of their share of stops. Hanie, who also had a 29-yard touchdown pass to Knox, finished with 254 yards passing.
"We make games hard. I understand that, but at the end of the day we're 7-4," Jackson said. "Hopefully we get some guys back here shortly so we can continue to keep growing."