Updated January 10, 2022 - 6:32 am
Load up the Madden Cruiser. The Raiders are headed back to the playoffs.
On a day in which they honored John Madden, their late Hall of Fame and Super Bowl-winning coach, with a pregame tribute and torch-lighting ceremony, the Raiders edged the Los Angeles Chargers 35-32 in an overtime thriller Sunday at Allegiant Stadium to punch their ticket to the postseason.
That does not even include the queue of fans who patiently waited to set foot in the converted Greyhound bus in which the iconic coach traveled to games during his broadcast days.
Daniel Carlson kicked a 47-yard field goal on the final play of the extra period — his fifth game-winning kick of the season — as the Raiders won their fourth straight game and earned their first playoff berth since 2016.
It was a pulsating — and unexpected — finish after the Chargers rallied from a 29-14 fourth-quarter deficit to force overtime with a Justin Herbert touchdown pass on the final play of regulation.
The Raiders locked down one of the three AFC wild-card spots in the must-win (or tie) game. They will face the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. The Bengals beat the Raiders 32-13 in Week 11.
Stress to the Maxx
“That was one of the most stressful games I’ve ever been a part of,” Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby said after Allegiant Stadium erupted in a massive roar and silver and black confetti shower following Carlson’s latest clutch kick. “But we got the win, and that’s all that mattered.”
A month ago, the playoffs seemed almost an impossibility. The Raiders were dealing with inconsistency on the field and much bigger problems off it.
Foremost among the latter were coach Jon Gruden’s resignation over degrading and derogatory emails and a fatal car crash involving star pass receiver Henry Ruggs in which a young woman named Tina Tintor and her dog were killed.
But somehow, the team was able to compartmentalize and play its way into the postseason for just the second time in 19 seasons.
The Raiders showed resiliency in bouncing back into the playoff picture with close victories over Cleveland, Denver and Indianapolis before persevering in an even more excruciating manner against the Chargers in their biggest game since relocating to Southern Nevada.
Per Raiders policy, official attendance was not announced. But the crowd not only appeared to be the largest of the season but also easily the most engaged. And, for once, it was virtually united in support of the home team.
Feeling the noise
“I can’t tell you how excited we are for Raider Nation playing in this venue with a crowd like that,” Raiders interim coach Rich Bisaccia said. “It was extremely exciting.”
Raiders fans said much the same thing, even before the nerve-wracking conclusion.
“It’s exciting; it’s our first game with this kind of meaning,” said longtime Las Vegan Jeff Swain, a Southern Paiute Native American who was raised in Alameda, California, less than a 10-minute drive from the Oakland Coliseum. “This is one of those bucket-list moments.”
Leo Salazar, a Raiders fan from Los Angeles, said pretty much the same thing but in a slightly different fashion.
“This is dope as (expletive),” he said about receiving Raiders-Chargers tickets from his wife and sisters as a birthday present.
That’s probably not an expression Madden would have used in his cruiser. But it is a sentiment with which he undoubtedly would have agreed.