ALAMEDA (AP) — Charles Woodson was sick of hearing the talk about how the Oakland Raiders were finally competitive again after years of being overmatched.
Woodson has his eyes set on a much higher target: the playoffs.
What might have seemed farfetched when Oakland lost a lopsided opener to Cincinnati in September is now a distinct possibility after the Raiders put together their second straight complete performance, beating the New York Jets 34-20 on Sunday.
“It’s fine for some people to play from the underdog role, but I don’t like it,” Woodson said. “I don’t like being the underdog. I want to be expected to win games. I want these guys to go out there and be expected to win games. Yeah, it’s a little premature to be thinking that far ahead, playoff-wise, but there’s no reason you can’t think of yourself as a playoff team.”
Woodson is a big reason why. The 39-year-old is showing no signs of slowing down. His league-leading fifth interception helped the Raiders (4-3) beat the Jets (4-3) to become one of five AFC teams with winning records.
Oakland plays another playoff contender this week when the Raiders travel to Pittsburgh (4-4). A win would keep Oakland atop the AFC wild-card race with wins over two of the closest competitors in the Steelers and Jets.
What a difference a year makes.
At this point last year, the Raiders were 0-8 and on their way to 10 straight losses to open the season and 16 in a row overall. But with a new mindset instilled by Jack Del Rio’s coaching staff, a potent offense led by emerging star Derek Carr and an improved defense anchored by Woodson and Khalil Mack, the Raiders are in their best position since going to the Super Bowl in 2002
Now instead of the questions last year about whether the Raiders would even win a game, the focus is on whether Oakland needs to guard against overconfidence.
“I don’t really understand this question of guarding against. We’re a 4-3 team,” Del Rio said. “We’ve battled each and every week. We’re going to continue to battle each and every week. These kind of questions are kind of silly to me.”
While Oakland reached a 5-4 mark in 2010 before finishing 8-8 and made it to 7-4 the following year before a late-season collapse left them at .500 again and out of the playoffs, the success this season appears to be more lasting.
With Carr playing better than any quarterback for the Raiders since Rich Gannon was winning the MVP in 2002, Oakland has a core to build around with fellow youngsters like Mack, Amari Cooper, Latavius Murray, TJ Carrie, Gabe Jackson and Mario Edwards Jr.
But they also know there is plenty of work to be done to achieve their goal of a playoff berth.
“We can’t come out next week and not do the same thing,” left tackle Donald Penn said. “We’ve got to keep this thing going, and that’s the thing I’m trying to express to the team. Let’s keep building.”
NOTES: The Raiders came out of the game with no injuries to report. ... The only player on the active roster currently sidelined is LB Neiron Ball, who is expected to miss a few more weeks with a knee injury.