ALAMEDA, Calif. – Tony Sparano gathered the Oakland Raiders in a victorious locker room and praised them for sticking together through a 16-game losing streak.
Left tackle Donald Penn then presented Oakland's interim coach with a game ball that was well earned. Since taking over from the fired Dennis Allen after four games, Sparano has made the Raiders much more competitive despite their lack of success.
On Thursday night, he fulfilled a promise he made the day he took over to put smiles on his players' faces with a win as Oakland snapped its yearlong skid by beating the first-place Kansas City Chiefs 24-20.
Sparano said this game ball was the most meaningful he has ever gotten.
"I say that because of what this team has been through and how far we've had to come; and how much the guys have stayed together in that locker room," he said Friday. "I really appreciate it last night, it was nice. But really, they're the ones that deserve the game balls."
Sparano had not been part of a winning effort as a head coach since his Miami Dolphins beat the Raiders 34-14 on Dec. 4, 2011. Sparano was fired after losing the next game and didn't get his next chance as head coach until this season.
Sparano made small changes like burying a football to symbolize putting the 0-4 start in the past and moving some players around in the locker room. But his biggest impact was keeping the players together and playing hard through the long losing streak.
Oakland was within one score in the fourth quarter in five of Sparano's first six games before finally breaking through for the win against the Chiefs.
"He's one of the bright spots out of this season," Penn said. "Even though our record doesn't show it, everybody has to see that since he's taken over, we've gotten better and better."
The way the Raiders won was especially sweet for Sparano, who also serves as the team's offensive line coach and has vowed to turn Oakland into a strong running team.
Oakland broke out to a 14-point lead behind two touchdown runs by Latavius Murray, the first rushing touchdowns of the season against the Chiefs.
The Raiders then found themselves trailing in the fourth quarter but rallied with a 17-play, 80-yard drive capped by Derek Carr's 9-yard TD pass to James Jones with 1:42 remaining.
Oakland then got one last stop following a near colossal mistake when linebackers Sio Moore and Khalil Mack celebrated a sack with an elaborate dance and handshake in the Kansas City backfield while the Chiefs rushed to get a fourth-down play off. Defensive end Justin Tuck alertly called timeout to save the Raiders from embarrassment.
"I don't chuckle over it, no, no, no," Sparano said. "I don't chuckle over it. I can just imagine what the headline would be today, so I don't chuckle over it."
Oakland ran the ball nine times on that drive, with fullback Marcel Reece powering his way to 34 yards on seven carries and Carr converting first downs on two QB sneaks.
The Raiders finished with a season-high 179 yards on the ground, including 112 on four carries by Murray. Murray scored on runs of 11 and 90 yards before leaving with a concussion. He figures to get more playing time once he is fully recovered.
"We finally said as a line enough is enough," Penn said. "We came out and we did it. We can't just do it one game. We have to do it more. I want more. This isn't enough. We need more."
NOTES: Sparano was optimistic that G Gabe Jackson (knee) and CB TJ Carrie (ankle) can return in time for the Nov. 30 game at St. Louis. ... The Raiders will get the weekend off before returning to practice Monday.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL