The football gods giveth. And the football gods taketh away. That was a painful lesson for the Indianapolis Colts. And quite the fortuitous one for the Las Vegas Raiders in a topsy turvy edge-of-your-seats 23-20 win Sunday afternoon.
“It’s the story of our season,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr began during an interview on the FOX broadcast immediately after the game. “Turning the ball over, sometimes you don’t get a first down. All these different kind of things and adversity. And yet, we find a way to win. And from what I hear, that’s all that matters.”
A second-half WTF moment made it seem victory would elude the Raiders.
The Colts were gifted a 45-yard touchdown pass from erratic quarterback Carson Wentz to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton at the 11:28 mark of the third quarter. Gift is an apt description as throw from Wentz was a dying duck and Raiders rookie free safety Tre’Von Moehrig and veteran cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. both leaped for the pass and one of them appeared destined to come down with the interception. But, appearances can be deceiving.
Wow. That's the football gods saying you ain't winning #Raiders.#RaiderNation— Ray Aspuria (@RaynMaker82) January 2, 2022
Instead, the ball ricocheted off the Vegas’ defender’s hands and softly into the awaiting mitts of Hilton. Touchdown, Colts. A 17-13 lead in hand and momentum swinging emphatically to Indianapolis’ favor.
It was such a bizarre turn of events, but it was a Raider-type thing to happen.
But the football gods are a petty bunch. They love seeing teams and its fans ride high with ecstasy and then wallow in misery from one minute to the next. And it was Wentz and Hilton centerstage for the football gods cruelty.
Just five seconds into the fourth quarter, Wentz got the shotgun snap and the Raiders forgot to cover Hilton. The wideout was galloping downfield wide open and Wentz fired the dime. The throw was over thrown past the outstretched and desperate hands of Hilton incomplete. No 77-yard touchdown for Indy and the Colts had to punt the ball back to the Raiders.
Momentum left Indy’s corner and swung back into Vegas’ sideline and the Raiders responded with a six-play, 62-yard scoring drive that culminated in an 11-yard touchdown strike from Carr to wide receiver Hunter Renfrow on a 4th-and-2 play to take a 20-17 lead.
The Raiders’ resolve was thoroughly tested by the Colts on their ensuing drive. The horsemen went on a time-consuming (9:22) drive that covered 53 yards in 14 plays, but Las Vegas defense didn’t wilt and stood its ground against equally determined Indy. Gus Bradley’s unit didn’t allow Frank Reich’s offense near the end zone and forced the Colts to attempt and make a 41-yard field goal to knot the game at 20.
Unfortunately for the Colts, they left Carr and the Raiders offense plenty of time to operate (1:56) and with a trio of timeouts in tow, that was way too much time to give Vegas. Carr expertly led the Raiders offense going 4-for-6 including what initially appeared to be a brilliant play-extending 48-yard touchdown pass to Renfrow. Replay showed an index finger touched the wideout’s foot meaning down by contact. Still, the play was a 24-yard hookup and, after a trio of Josh Jacobs run bled the clock to two seconds left, the Raiders called timeout and set up kicker Daniel Carlson for another game-winner and the well-paid boot specialist delivered — again.
“The thing I thought was really exciting about him today is he had some creative plays in some difficult situations,” Raiders interim head coach Rich Bisaccia said speaking of offensive coordinator Greg Olson’s play calling late in the game. “We get in that two-minute situation, our offense has proven – Greg puts them in really good positions with the play calls and then our offensive line bowed up and protected him.”
“I think we have a lot of confidence when we get ourselves in a two-minute situation. I think we had all three of our timeouts, and we had a chance to move the ball down there and put ourselves in field goal position to win it. We had a lot of confidence in Derek to do that; he’s done it a lot of times.”
The final two possessions showcased complementary Raiders football. That’s something that was hit and miss this season but Vegas is putting it all together in the most critical stretch of the team’s 2021 campaign. All three phases of the game contributed to the victory.
“Is the season over because our head coach is gone? Is the season over because our receiver is gone, our corner is gone? At the end of the day, we have a job to do. ... No one’s going to come feel sorry for you,” Carr said. “No one’s going to come pat you on the back and tell you it’s going to be OK. It’s not OK; we’ve got to win.
“I think it’s that mentality that we keep speaking into existence that when things happen, if I throw a pick, defense doesn’t care. They don’t even blink. They go out and they don’t even let points happen. You get the ball back, and you’re still right there in it.”
Now, at 9-7 and the on the cusp of a playoff appearance, the Raiders have set things up very nicely for themselves. They close out the regular season within the confines of Allegiant Stadium and face a familiar foe, the Los Angeles Chargers in a win-and-get-in finale. Destiny in their own hands and a winning season, no less — playoffs or not. Although, admittance into the postseason tournament would be tremendous for the moribund Raiders franchise.