OAKLAND, California (Ticker) -- Just call them AFC West champions.
Oakland won a division title for the first time since 1990 and secured a first-round bye in the playoffs by matching its best offensive output in club history. The Raiders posted a 52-49 victory over Houston on December 22, 1963.
"It came down to the wire. To week 16, to Christmas Eve at our place," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. "It was a tough loss last week to Seattle. Then Denver won yesterday. I don't care what our record is against Denver. At least we've got this under our belt."
"There's a great feeling of pride and accomplishment of coming so far," Raiders offensive lineman Lincoln Kennedy said. "I think this month there's been so many ups and downs and we had an opportunity in front of our fans to show them a little something like they saw against the Jets. We were lucky to get off on all cylinders and fortunate to make it happen."
Gannon, a candidate for NFL Most Valuable Player honors, stated his case in today's regular-season finale, throwing three of his touchdowns in the first half, when the Raiders built a 24-9 advantage. Gannon completed 26-of-32 passes for 230 yards before leaving late in the fourth quarter with an injured nose.
"I'm excited. It's a pretty exciting feeling in the locker room and in the stands," Gannon said. "We're excited but we have to realize we have a great opportunity and we have to win a couple ballgames."
The Panthers (7-9) suffered their most lopsided loss in club history and failed in their bid to finish the season at .500.
"Oakland did a wonderful job of winning the division," Panthers coach George Seifert said. "One of the things we've done really well at this year is stopping the other team from scoring points but we couldn't stop (Oakland). We couldn't get in a rhythm. We had three or four turnovers in the second half."
Needing a victory to secure the division after the Denver Broncos won on Saturday, Oakland did not leaving anything to chance today.
The Raiders took the opening kickoff and drove 77 yards in 12 plays. Gannon capped the drive that took nearly seven minutes with his first of two TD passes to tight end Jeremy Brigham from four yards.
Carolina answered that score when former Raider Joe Nedney connected on a 46-yard field goal midway through the opening quarter.
Rookie Sebastian Janikowksi and Nedney traded field goals over the first 4:53 of the second quarter before the Raiders took control of the game.
Gannon capped a 12-play, 82-yard drive with a one-yard TD pass to Andre Rison with 3:08 left in the half that provided Oakland with a 17-9 advantage. That scored was set up by a 35-yard interference penalty on safety Eugene Robinson that moved the ball to the 1.
After stopping Carolina on the next possession, the Raiders went back to work behind Gannon, who threw a nine-yard TD pass to Tim Brown with 19 seconds left before the break for a 24-9 advantage.
"We went out and played well in all phases of the game," Gannon said. "It's a great way to go into the playoffs. Our offensive line has gotten a lot better. I'm grateful to play with them."
Beuerlein, who completed 12-of-21 passes for 156 yards and one interception, made a pair of costly miscues in the third quarter that Raiders took full advanatage.
Beuerlein made another mistake on the Panthers' next possession when veteran cornerback Eric Allen returned an interception 37 yards for a score, giving the Raiders a 38-9 bulge with 11:16 left in the third quarter.
Jeff Lewis relieved Beuerlein the rest of the way and went 10-of-16 for 79 yards.
Gannon completed his big day with a two-yard TD toss to Brigham 2:54 into the fourth quarter.
To make matters worse for the Panthers, Darrien Gordon returned a fumble 74 yards for a touchdown on the game's final play.