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Darren Waller honors fallen friend with big game in Raiders’ loss

Raiders tight end Darren Waller wasn’t sure he wanted to take the field Thursday, a day after friend and former teammate Lorenzo Taliaferro died.

He decided to play in Taliaferro’s honor and provided quite a tribute.

Waller caught nine passes for 150 yards and a touchdown, but it wasn’t enough in a 30-27 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium.

When Waller caught his touchdown pass, a pretty 35-yard play from Marcus Mariota down the left sideline in the second quarter, he immediately paid homage to Taliaferro.

Waller flashed a “3” and a “4” with his fingers. Taliaferro wore No. 34 when he and Waller were teammates with the Baltimore Ravens.

“A good friend of mine passed away yesterday, so I had no juice today,” Waller said. “I thank God and the people that support me for speaking life into me today and telling me to go out there and play and represent him and to have him on my mind when I was playing.”

It was the second time in three games Waller had 150 yards or more receiving. Only three other tight ends — Shannon Sharpe, Kellen Winslow and Todd Christensen — have hit that plateau twice in a season in NFL history.

Once Waller decided to play, he knew he had to have a big game.

“I feel like him and his presence and what his time on the earth meant to me is what motivated me to play football with a sense of urgency,” Waller said.

Taliaferro, 28, died of a heart attack, according to a family member. The running back played three seasons in the NFL, all with the Ravens.

Streak broken

The Raiders received the ball and kicked a field goal to start overtime only to see the Chargers drive down the field and win the game with a touchdown.

Under the former sudden death rules, the field goal would have ended the game.

The loss snapped a streak of seven straight overtime games won by the Raiders, dating to a 23-20 loss to the Denver Broncos in 2007.

Wardrobe malfunction

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, wearing an Oakland Raiders hat, greets players as they stretch b ...
Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, wearing an Oakland Raiders hat, greets players as they stretch before playing the Los Angeles Chargers in an NFL football game on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, at Allegiant Stadium, in Las Vegas. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @csstevensphoto

Raiders coach Jon Gruden started the game wearing an “Oakland Raiders” hat.

The mistake was picked up by the TV broadcast and immediately became a meme on social media. At some point, he changed into a “Las Vegas Raiders” hat.

Gruden addressed the error in his opening statement after the loss.

“I apologize for not having the right hat on,” he said. “Somebody played a pretty good trick on me.”

Playing it safe

The Raiders were 4-for-4 on fourth-down attempts, but it was one decision to kick a field goal that Gruden might regret.

Gruden sent in Daniel Carlson to kick a go-ahead field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 5 with 3:18 to play in overtime, instead of going for a touchdown that would have won the game.

“If we had gotten a little bit closer, I would have thought about (going for) it, but it was fourth-and-5,” Gruden said “I know I went for it a couple times earlier in the game, but to take the lead with three minutes left, I thought it was the play to make at that time.”

The Raiders had second-and-goal at the 3 and lost 2 yards on a Josh Jacobs run. On third down, Mariota rolled right and had his pass batted down as he tried to find fullback Alec Ingold.

Odds and ends

— The loss dropped the Raiders’ chances at making the postseason to 6 percent, according to the New York Times’ playoff simulator.

— Jacobs became the fourth player in Raiders history to record at least 10 rushing touchdowns in a season when he leaped for a 1-yard score in the third quarter. He’s also the first player in franchise history to surpass 2,000 career rushing yards within his first two seasons.

— Jason Witten played in his 269th game as a tight end, second-most in NFL history. He will tie Tony Gonzalez for the all-time record in his next game.

— The Raiders’ fourth-quarter touchdown drive, capped by Mariota’s 2-yard run, took 10:52. It was the team’s longest TD drive since Dec. 16, 2007.

— The Raiders have failed to get a first down on their opening drive in their last four games. Thursday’s first drive resulted in a three-and-out.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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