HOUSTON — Coach Hue Jackson sank to his knees, buried his face in his hands and finally released the emotions he’d been holding back. Up in the visitors’ suite at Reliant Stadium, Mark Davis wiped away tears with a paper towel and glanced to the sky.
The Oakland Raiders won the day after their maverick owner Al Davis died, beating the Houston Texans 25-20 on Sunday behind Jason Campbell’s two touchdown passes.
Michael Huff intercepted Matt Schaub’s pass in the end zone on the final play, and the Raiders ran to celebrate a bittersweet victory unlike any other in the storied history of the franchise.
Al, this one’s for you.
“One thing Coach (Davis) always taught me was he said: ‘Hue, don’t believe in plays, believe in players, and eventually the players will make plays for you,’ ” Jackson said. “And that’s what I did. I could just hear him saying that to me the whole time. Believe in your players and not the plays.”
Stadiums around the league observed a moment of silence before the early games to honor Davis, who died at his Oakland home at age 82. His son, Mark, took his place in the owner’s box, and the Raiders wore black decals on the backs of their helmets with “AL” written in silver letters.
They were statistically dominated by Houston, outgained 473-278 and held to 11 first downs and 94 yards rushing. They still managed to do the only thing that ever mattered to Davis.
They just won, baby.
“We know he’s looking down on us right now,” Huff said. “This win is for him. I appreciate everything he’s done for this organization. He’s never gone in our eyes. We’ll never let him go. He’s with us.”
Sebastian Janikowski kicked four field goals, and Oakland hung on to improve to 3-2. The Raiders drafted Janikowski in 2000, only the third time a kicker had been taken in the first round.
“He was looking over us,” Janikowski said. “I was feeling good and hitting everything in warmups.”
Schaub threw for 416 yards and two touchdowns but missed star receiver Andre Johnson, who sat out with a right hamstring injury. The Texans (3-2) still had a chance to win with under a minute left, facing a third-and-23 from the Oakland 39.
Schaub scrambled and found tight end Joel Dreessen open at the 5, and Schaub spiked the ball with seven seconds left. Instead of trying to run for the winning score, Schaub lobbed a pass to Jacoby Jones, and Huff stepped in to pick it off.
“My mobility wasn’t limited at the time,” Schaub said, “but I’m not necessarily a guy that’s going to make a whole lot of guys miss in the open field.”
For Oakland, a messy victory never felt so good.
“This is a new beginning for this football team,” Jackson said. “We don’t care if they’re ugly, we don’t care if they’re pretty. We just don’t care. Our No. 1 purpose when we play is to win.
“We all had coach tied to our hearts today.”
The Raiders pulled off a fake punt that Davis would have loved to keep momentum in the fourth quarter.
After the Texans stopped Darren McFadden on third-and-1, Rock Cartwright took the snap and raced 35 yards to the Houston 25. Janikowski kicked a 42-yard field goal with 10 minutes left for a 25-17 Oakland lead.
With no Johnson to target, Schaub threw six consecutive incompletions during one stretch of the final quarter.
“We’ve got to do a better job,” receiver Kevin Walter said. “We’ve got to do a better job at making plays when it really counts.”
Neil Rackers’ 40-yard field goal cut Oakland’s lead to 25-20 with 2:56 left, and Houston’s defense held to give the offense one more chance.
The Raiders flew to Houston on Friday, then learned Saturday morning that Davis had died. Jackson gathered his players for an emotional meeting at their hotel.
Jackson was surprised how emotional he got after Sunday’s game.
“I thought I had it all out the other day,” he said. “Obviously I didn’t. I know he’s looking down on this team, and he’s with us every step of the way.”
It didn’t look promising after the Texans scored a touchdown on their opening series for the third straight game.
Arian Foster had a 20-yard run against the league’s 29th-ranked run defense, and Walter caught a short touchdown pass with 8:15 left in the first quarter.