KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It ended with a track meet.
The Raiders sprinted in vain after wide receiver Tyreek Hill on a 67-yard touchdown, after safety Daniel Sorensen on a 54-yard interception return for a touchdown, after wide receiver Demarcus Robinson on an 89-yard touchdown. They chased but seldom captured in a season-finale loss void of drama.
But there was one sprint Sunday the Raiders won.
Afterward, they rehashed it with pride.
“That is what we need,” running back DeAndre Washington said. “Those types of plays, you see guys’ character.”
Rookie left tackle Kolton Miller prevented a touchdown when he caught Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Reggie Ragland at the 4-yard line following a 67-yard interception return. The defense then forced a four-down, goal-line stand. The Raiders know strained squinting is required to see past their series of scoreboards in 2018 — 35-3 read the latest and most lopsided result — but they exuded belief following a 4-12 year.
Ragland’s interception came in the second quarter.
It was the fourth of four opening possessions on which the Raiders committed a turnover.
“It wasn’t a good play in the grand scheme of things with the play,” said defensive end Frostee Rucker, a co-captain. “Him running down there, showing effort, showing that he cares, that just means so much to me. (Miller) didn’t have to sprint over there. He didn’t have to make that play. But he did, and that’s what you’re building on.
“You’re building on guys who are going to do things like that, relentlessly, for 60 minutes. I can’t say enough about the character of this team. Despite the scoreboard, these guys still fought. We played every snap. I’m proud of those guys. Their character always showed.”
The Chiefs (12-4) did what many figured.
They romped the Raiders with explosive plays, effectively clinching the AFC West and home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. Chants of “MVP! MVP!” filled Arrowhead Stadium for the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, who became the second quarterback in NFL history to pass for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in the same season.
Mahomes, a 2017 first-round pick, did so in his first season as a starter.
It was clear from the opening jump the Raiders couldn’t keep pace. Mahomes hit Hill on the 67-yarder during the first possession. Raiders running back Doug Martin lost a fumble on the ensuing drive. The Chiefs then were forced to punt, but quarterback Derek Carr tossed an interception that Sorensen snared.
Tight end Jared Cook was the intended target. Miscommunication led to him run-blocking instead of route-running.
By halftime, it was 21-3.
But it would’ve been worse if not for Miller. His effort amid adversitiy was emblematic of the season, coach Jon Gruden said.
“I think the goal-line stand that followed was also a good message that our fans can remember from this team,” Gruden added. “We have to add some pieces. We know that, and hopefully, we can do that here soon.”
Oakland possesses about $80 million in cap space for 2019. It owns three first-round picks in April, including the No. 4 overall choice. These are vital construction materials for an organization that wants to believe its foundation, from a locker-room culture standpoint, is already in place.
Clearly, the Raiders aren’t ready to sprint with Kansas City.
They showed enough this year to believe they’re on the right track.