If you put everything that happened in the first 3.5 quarters of the game between the Chiefs and Raiders Thursday night behind you, this game still came down to one score. The Raiders were either going to score for a chance to tie or they were going to lose. At that point, nothing else mattered. All the missed opportunities, for which there were many, were now meaningless. If they got it done in the end, it would be washed away.
They didn’t get it done. So, all those ‘what might have been’ moments get piled up together and it gets argued countless times which play(s) were more to blame. But it always just comes down to how you finish. Especially with this Raiders team that has had their share of strong finishes this season.
So, let’s set it up.
With 7:25 left on the clock, the Raiders get the ball at their own 15-yard-line off the punt.
The pass game for the Raiders has been atrocious all day. Off target passes and drops along with some solid defense by the Chiefs led Derek Carr to have the worst game of his career. He clearly didn’t have it in this game, whether it be because of his pinky, the cold weather, or whatever.
One thing that WAS working was the Raiders’ ground game. Heading into the Raiders’ final drive Latavius Murray was sitting at 98 yards rushing while Derek Carr still had just 95 passing yards on 14 of 33 passing (42%). The only yards picked up in the fourth quarter had come on Murray runs and 4 of the Raiders 5 first downs in the second half had been picked up by Murray.
It was pretty clear, the only way the Raiders were going to win this one was on the ground, especially with All Pro middle linebacker Derrick Johnson having left the game with a ruptured Achilles.
The first play was a run by Jalen Richard for 8 yards. Good start, showing the running room was there to be had… so, they went to air. The short pass to Crabtree was low and behind him, causing him to have to make a sliding catch reaching back for it to get the first down.
Three straight running plays by Richard (4, 4) and Murray who picked up the first down on third and two. Again proving the yards were there to be had on the ground, much like they were when the Raiders gouged the Broncos a few weeks ago. So, of course, they went to the air again.
A pass to Crabtree drew a flag for pass interference and the penalty moved the Raiders into Kansas City territory for just the second time in the game not off of a turnover. Unfortunately on the play, Michael Crabtree appeared to have re-injured the finger on his left hand he hurt last Sunday, so the Raiders were down a starting receiver.
A short pass to Clive Walford picked up just three. A Murray run added another three and the Raiders were in third and 4.
Another pass play was called and Justin Houston got the edge on Austin Howard, hitting Carr’s arm as he threw and the ball fell incomplete.
Fourth and 4 now. Raiders go empty backfield and Carr finds Seth Roberts on a shallow cross for one of the few on-target, in-stride passes he threw in the game and a 13-yard gain. The next play, he threw too high for Jalen Richard in point blank range.
Back to the ground, where once again we see the yards are there to be had with Richard going for nine. The run sets up third and one inside the 15-yard-line. The easiest call in the playbook upcoming, right? Run it for the first down, right? It’s four-down territory, so they’d have two chances to push forward to pick up the first down with the two-minute warning upcoming to stop the clock. And the way they were running, it probably wouldn’t take two plays.
Too easy. Pass it.
And where does Carr go with it? He goes for a fade to Andre Holmes, the team’s number four wide receiver, who is being guarded by Marcus Peters, the Chiefs’ Pro Bowl number one corner who is currently second in the NFL in interceptions (5) and passes defended (22). The result was an expected one. Peters stayed with Holmes, turned and knocked down the pass with relative ease.
Now, the Raiders are in fourth down and one, with the game resting on this one play for this one yard. That one yard quickly became six when Austin Howard flinched for the false start.
What was short yardage with two chances to run for the first down is now an obvious passing situation. Crabtree is back in and the Raiders send four receivers on routes. Carr throws out left up high for Seth Roberts where Chiefs cornerback Terrance Mitchell leaps up and bats it down to end the threat.
That play call loomed large, though Jack Del Rio wasn’t commenting on its significance.
“We had a plan put together and ran it pretty well throughout the night,” Jack Del Rio said after the game. “I can’t speak for that one particular play. I trust our guys. We go make plays and we just didn’t make enough tonight.”
A first down on the ensuing Chiefs’ possession ended it officially. But, really, it ended when the Raiders went away from the run, which the Chiefs had not shown the ability to stop, and kept going back to the pass, which hadn’t been working all game long.
“We were down eight and a score away,” Latavius Murray added. “We had no doubt in our mind we were going to get back in the game. But again, we didn’t make enough plays to go down and do that.”
After so many bad breaks and missed opportunities kept the Raiders from keeping up with the Chiefs all game long. After three takeaways deep in Chiefs territory netted the Raiders just 6 points. After special teams gave up a 78-yard touchdown off a punt return and cost three points on a botched snap. And after dropped passes and a weird fluke pass to a wide open Amari Cooper with nothing but open field in front of him somehow fell incomplete.
Even after all that the Raiders were within 1 yard of a first down and 14 yards from the end zone and a chance at a tie in a game that would mean a stranglehold in the division and a top seed in the playoffs. And they blew it on the easiest play call anyone could have made.
Even for a team still sitting at 10-3, that’s a bitter pill to swallow.