Raiders' Embarrassing Late-Season Collapse Capped Off With Playoff-Crushing Loss

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystDecember 18, 2020

Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) runs agains Los Angeles Chargers in overtime of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

The Las Vegas Raiders out-Chargered the Los Angeles Chargers during a Thursday night affair most would like to forget. In doing so, the Raiders' once-promising season came to a screeching halt with only a slight mathematical possibility and plenty of help needed to reach the postseason. 

A month ago, the Raiders held a 6-3 record coming off impressive victories against the Cleveland Browns, Chargers and Denver Broncos

Everything has fallen apart from that point, with Thursday's 30-27 overtime loss essentially sealing the Raiders' fate. Las Vegas has lost four of its last five games. 

The only win came courtesy of a Gregg Williams brainfart—the New York Jets should have captured their first win of the season only to let Henry Ruggs III race behind the defense (with no safety help) for one last shot at the end zone so the Raiders could secure a victory from the jaws of defeat.

Williams lost his job the following day. The Raiders should reassess where they stand moving forward as a 7-7 squad that may be missing its franchise quarterback for the next two weeks since Derek Carr suffered a groin injury during Thursday's first quarter and didn't return. 

Head coach Jon Gruden told reporters that Carr's injury is "significant," though he doesn't believe the quarterback actually tore the muscle. 

Marcus Mariota entered the contest and played relatively well. The expensive backup brought the Raiders back from a touchdown deficit twice and even led a potential game-winning drive in overtime that resulted in a field goal.

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The second-string quarterback provided 314 total yards, including 88 rushing yards, after entering the game in the second quarter. His presence helped open up the offense because the Chargers had to account for his mobility, which made it much easier for the Raiders to move the ball. 

Yet Las Vegas didn't fully capitalize on Los Angeles not preparing for Mariota to take over the offense.

With 4:30 remaining in overtime, Gruden ran Josh Jacobs twice between the tackles before trying a simple play-action pass in a compressed zone from the 5-yard line. The head coach then chose to kick a field goal instead of attempting to end the game right there with a fourth-down touchdown. At worst, the Chargers would have been pinned near their own end zone if the offense couldn't score a touchdown. 

Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

"If it was a little bit closer, I would have considered going for it," Gruden told reporters. "But to take the lead with three minutes left I thought was the play to make at that time."

The Raiders deserved to lose because they weren't playing to win.

While playing with its backup quarterback and missing multiple starters, Las Vegas had a chance to steal a game that Los Angeles dominated throughout. Instead, Gruden played it safe and lost anyhow. 

"It's on me," Gruden told reporters. "It was tough. I'm really proud of our coaches and our players. We did a lot of good things tonight. But you've got to win these tight games. And often times, that's a reflection on the head coach."

Conversely, the Chargers let their standout rookie take over the contest with the game on the line. Herbert threw three straight passes to begin the Chargers' overtime drive, the third of which was a long completion to the 2-yard line. Three plays later, the quarterback snuck the ball into the end zone for the winning score.

During the final drive, Herbert became the first rookie ever to throw for 300 or more yards and run for the winning score in overtime, according to Stats Perform. Herbert is a star in the making and the front-runner for the 2020 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. The Chargers kept the ball in his hands throughout the extra frame. The Raiders chose not to do the same with their quarterback who placed them in a position to win. 

David Becker/Associated Press

But one loss doesn't define a season. The Raiders' problems are much bigger. 

This bad stretch started with a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, but the Raiders had no reason to hang their head. They competed hard and even had a late fourth-quarter lead. But Las Vegas seemed deflated coming out of that contest. 

A week later, the Atlanta Falcons, who were playing with interim coach Raheem Morris after firing Dan Quinn, stomped the Raiders by 37 points. The Jets followed, and the Raiders nearly fell prey to the league's worst squad. The Indianapolis Colts racked up 44 points this past weekend. 

The Las Vegas defense, in particular, has been excruciatingly bad. According to the Associated Press' Josh Dubow, opponents have had 17 drives (not including kneel-downs) over the last two games. During that stretch, the Raiders have allowed eight touchdowns and four field goals, and their opponents have missed two more field-goal attempts. Las Vegas has forced only three punts with no turnovers.

The group struggled in crunch time Thursday. The Chargers scored quickly before the end of the first half with only a minute remaining when they gained possession. Gruden admitted his secondary blew two coverages. 

"It's been a problem in past years and it's hard to admit it again," the coach said

With or without Carr in the lineup, the Raiders offense showed it can move the ball. It doesn't matter if the defense fails to do its part, though. 

Now, the Raiders are a game-and-a-half behind the 8-5 Miami Dolphins and 8-5 Baltimore Ravens for the AFC's seventh playoff seed. A win next weekend against Miami would certainly go a long way, but it probably won't be enough.

The Dolphins could enter their meeting against the Raiders with a full two-game advantage if they beat Patriots this weekend. 

Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

The Ravens are positioned the best out of all three teams with upcoming contests against the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals

Maybe the 9-4 Cleveland Browns falter down the stretch since the Raiders hold the tiebreaker between the two after beating Cleveland earlier this season. However, the Browns simply need to win one game against the Giants, Jets or Steelers for that not to matter. 

For all intents and purposes, the Raiders season is over, and the team is 18-28 since Gruden took over in 2018. What makes matters worse is the organization fell apart late last season, too. The Raiders finished the '19 campaign by losing five of their final six contests. They could have another late-season 1-5 stretch by losing to the Dolphins next week. 

Some serious soul-searching needs to happen in Sin City. What happens in Vegas shouldn't stay in Vegas if this is how the Raiders continue under Gruden's supervision. 


Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.