There was an interesting microcosm that happened in the final 16 minutes of the Raiders win over the Chargers on Sunday.
With just over a minute remaining in the third quarter, the Raiders were down 24-19 to the Chargers. They had driven to the San Diego 21-yard-line and found themselves in 4th and 2. In field goal range, with too many yards to push forward for the first down. A field goal brings them to within two points heading into the fourth quarter. Easy decision. Bring on the field goal unit, right?
Jack Del Rio rolled the dice, just as he had in the season opener in New Orleans when he went for two at the end to win it, instead of kicking the extra point to tie.
The offense took the field instead.
Ok, not a huge deal. It’s just two yards. Maybe an end around or a dump or a screen pass to pick it up.
Derek Carr was looking to Crabtree all the way on the long ball, hitting him for the 21-yard touchdown for the lead.
“It’s like all these situations, you make the call, what you think is best for the team and then you count on your guys going out and executing,” said Del Rio. “Crab [Michael Crabtree] got open and made a nice play.”
The funny thing is, Crabtree wasn’t open. Derek Carr just didn’t care. The two have already made several crucial and difficult connections this season, leading to a trust that inspires confidence in those moments.
“I take some chances here and there,” Derek Carr said of passing to a covered Crabtree. “We just hope they work out more times than they don’t, but he’s our guy that’s super competitive. He wants to win.”
With a one-point lead, the Raiders went for two and converted on a pass to Amari Cooper to take a three-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. It was the Raiders’ first lead since the 4-minute mark of the first quarter.
Now the Chargers once again found themselves having blown a late lead and playing comeback. Touchdowns by both teams kept the Raiders lead at three points approaching the 2-minute mark of the fourth quarter.
That’s when the Chargers were faced with a similar situation to that which the Raiders had.
They were in fourth and one from the Oakland 18-yard-line. A field goal would tie it up, giving the Raiders two minutes to try and win it or send it to overtime. Bring out the field goal unit and tie it up. Play it safe. Live to fight another down, right?
It’s just too big of a risk to give up the chance to tie for the chance to win. Should they not pick it up, they lose. Head coach Mike McCoy, having presided over three collapses in the final couple minutes of each of his team’s three losses this season can ill afford to make the call and risk being the reason they blew another shot at winning.
So, he played it safe, brought out the field goal unit for what was to be a 35-yard field goal attempt. Just two yards longer than an extra point. A chip shot.
A chip shot that would never leave the ground.
The snap was low and it went right through the hands of the holder. The Raiders took over on downs, ran the clock out to end it.
“Just when you think you’ve seen it all, something like that happens,” said Mike McCoy.
McCoy was asked why he opted to kick the field goal and offered no explanation, saying only; “Because that’s what I did.”
The thing is, even if the Chargers all went well on the field goal attempt and they converted to tie, the Raiders would still have had two minutes to either move into field goal range or score a touchdown – something the Raiders have done to pull out two of their previous three wins. So, the odds were still not in the Chargers’ favor.
The whole thing acts as a lesson in defying conventional wisdom. Jack Del Rio was bold and aggressive and was rewarded with the victory. Mike McCoy was conservative and timid and was punished with another heartbreaking loss.
We need only point to that quality to see why the Raiders are 4-1, tied for the division lead, and the bests record in the conference, and the Chargers are 1-4 and once again looking up at the rest of the division.