At this time about a month ago, the Las Vegas Raiders were the laughing stock of the NFL. They had just lost to the Chiefs by nearly 40 points after stomping on their logo in the pregame, and it looked like they were well on their way to another late-season collapse having lost five of their last six games at the time.
However, after winning the four contests since that embarrassing outing, capped off by yesterday’s 35-32 overtime win against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Raiders are the ones laughing now that they’ve conquered and won.
There was no shortage of obstacles along the way, but Las Vegas has managed to earn a playoff spot for just the second time since 2003, and the contributions from the people below played a huge role in making it happen last night.
WINNER: Rich Bisaccia
I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll continue to say it, Rich Bisaccia deserves an award for what he’s done for the Raiders this season. I can’t think of another interim head coach who’s had to deal with a scandal from their predecessor, a tragic accident involving their star wide receiver and a few more off the field issues. And all of this came while he had no idea if he’ll even be back next season.
But, Bisaccia stared that adversity in the face, took it head-on and managed to become the first interim head coach in the Super Bowl era to lead his team to the playoffs.
He served as the team’s leader and as their PR spokesperson at times, acting as a guiding light during some dark times and proving that he’s capable of being the man in charge. Las Vegas’ owner Mark Davis has repeatedly said that he was waiting to see if his club could earn a postseason berth before making any decisions about the next head coach. Well...here we are.
The Silver and Black have made the tournament and the former special teams coach has bolstered his case to stick around. Who knows what the future will hold for him, but last night’s win will certainly make Davis’ impending decision a lot more difficult.
WINNER: Jalen Richard
Jalen Richard didn’t get a ton of playing time - 24 out of 80 snaps - nor did he get a lot of touches - two carries and two receptions - but he did make them count.
With about 1:15 left in the first half, the Chargers scored to take their first lead of the game, and the Raiders had an opportunity to answer back right before halftime. After a few plays, Las Vegas faced a 3rd and 23 from their own 35-yard line and it looked like their response was going to fall flat.
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson called a run play to seemingly just give the team a better field position to set up for a punt, but Richard scampered to get all 23 yards the team need and fought for every inch at the end to pick up the first down. Three plays later, Josh Jacobs punched it in for a touchdown, and the Raiders took the lead back right before the half thanks to Richard’s efforts.
Not only did that flip the scoreboard back in the Silver and Black’s favor but it also dramatically impacted the momentum of the game. Los Angeles was starting to gain control, especially after putting Vegas in a third and forever situation, and they were set to receive the ball to start the second half. So, in a contest that needed overtime, who knows what would have happened had the six-year back not picked up that improbable first down.
In much less dramatic fashion, Richard had another huge third-down conversion. The Raiders were up 12 with a little more than 10 minutes left in the game and faced a third and four outside of field goal range at the Chargers’ 47. Carr dumped the ball off to the back, who was able to make one defender miss, pick up eight yards and set up another Daniel Carlson field goal. Again, who knows what happens if that play doesn't occur.
Richard’s emergence was a welcomed sight heading into the playoffs. The team doesn’t need him to be the bell-cow back, but if he can provide a spark when called upon, he’ll continue to play a factor in the club’s quest for a Lombardi trophy.
WINNER: Andre James
The strides Andre James has made this season can not be emphasized enough. He went from offensive liability after the first six games of the year to offensive building block in the 12 that followed, and it all came full circle last night.
Week 4 against the Chargers was one of James’ worst games of the season, as he allowed four pressures and earned a 45.4 run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus. He struggled against bigger nose tackles for the majority of the year and Linval Joseph got the best of him, however, it was a different story this time around.
Last night, James didn’t allow a single pressure and earned a respectable 62.3 run-blocking grade, while also finishing the week as PFF’s 10th-highest-graded center overall (66.6). It’s also worth noting that he had a nice second-level block to help spring Richard on the 23-yard third-down run mentioned above.
To see the first-year starter turn it around against a divisional opponent he struggled with last time is encouraging for a couple of reasons. For one, the Raiders can be even more confident in him heading into the postseason, and two, this cements their belief that he can be the guy moving forward/beyond this season.
WINNER: Maxx Crosby
Throughout the year, I’ve intentionally left Maxx Crosby off a few winners list when he was deserving of the recognition for weeks like this. He’s been so dominant this season that I didn’t want to cheapen performances like last night’s with his average ones, even though average games for Crosby this season have been career games for others. And last night against the Chargers, he was really special.
The 2019 fourth-round pick led the league with 11 pressures in Week 18 - that’s only his fourth-highest single-game mark this year - notched two sacks and tied for the highest PFF pass-rush grade among edge defenders (90.2). It felt like he was winning on just about every rep, especially late in the game when Los Angeles was mounting its comeback effort.
Crosby got the job done against the run, too. He earned his second-highest run defense grade of the season (78.0) - good enough for sixth-best at the position for the week - and registered two run stops at a rate of 15.4 percent, the latter ranks ninth among edges.
With the regular season wrapped up, Crosby finishes it with an impressive five elite weekly pass rush grades (90 or higher), a league-high 101 pressures that are also 15 more than Aaron Donald in second place, and as PFF’s third-highest graded defender overall (91.5). He also ends the year tied for sixth in run stops (27) and eighth in run-defense grade (77.1) to cap off what has truly been a special season.
Now all that’s left to do is make a postseason push.
WINNER: Quinton Jefferson
Somewhat quietly, Quinton Jefferson has put together a solid campaign as an interior pass rusher in 2021. He finished the regular season with 46 pressures on the year which is the 13th-most among defensive tackles and he tied for second in quarterback hits with 11.
While he might have been silent for the majority of the year, he was about as loud as can be yesterday.
Jefferson managed to register eight pressures against the Chargers, comprised of one sack, two QB hits and five hurries. Those figures ranked first, tied for fifth, tied for first and tied for second, respectively, among Week 18 defensive tackles. He was a major factor in the team’s win, which has been a common theme over the last few weeks.
18 of the veteran pass rusher’s 46 pressures have come in the last three weeks and no other interior pass has more than 14. For comparison’s sake, he leads second-place Jonathan Allen by four and a four-way tie for third that includes Aaron Donald by six during that timeframe. Also, Jefferson has only rushed the passer three more times than Allen and has 38 fewer rushes than Donald.
Having made the playoffs for the fourth season in a row, Jefferson is one of the few players on the Raiders’ roster with postseason experience so the team will be counting on him now more than ever. Hopefully, he continues to deliver.
WINNER: Darius Philon
It’s no coincidence that Las Vegas’ defensive line is well-represented in my winners for this week. Partially, it has to do with my inherent bias and affinity for the position, but it also serves as an example of how much they dominated in the trenches on that side of the ball.
Darius Philon has been a frequent flier on the winners' list in recent weeks and yesterday was no different. While his three pressures might not seem like much in comparison to Jefferson’s and Crosby’s numbers, they were still good to finish tied for 12th among defensive tackles despite him only having the 46th-most pass-rush opportunities.
To add more context to how effective Philon was at getting after the quarterback, he earned a 90.5 grade from PFF as a rusher, the third-highest mark of any defensive tackle for the week. He also added a batted pass, a couple of stops against the run and a tackle for loss in the mix.
It’s a shame that the former Charger’s night ended with him leaving the game on the injury cart. Hopefully, that was more precautionary as he’s been a force in the Raiders’ front seven over the last few weeks and they could really use him in the postseason.
The Chargers are the only losers this week, just win baby!