Updated September 13, 2021 - 10:04 pm
On a historic night in Las Vegas, the only thing left for the Raiders was to create a reason for their rabid fan base to finally be able to celebrate Allegiant Stadium with them.
They delivered the goods, taking their fans on a roller-coaster ride over more than three hours of football that finally ended when Derek Carr lofted a 31-yard touchdown pass to Zay Jones in overtime to beat the Baltimore Ravens 33-27.
It was wild and exhilarating and ugly and dumbfounding. But thanks to a much-improved defense that came up with timely stops, two turnovers and three sacks, the clutch right leg of Daniel Carlson and a steely-eyed quarterback who lived up to his history of late-game heroics, they survived a crazy night to pick up a season-opening win.
That they even needed Carr and Jones to come up with the game-winning play was astounding. Only a few minutes before it appeared they had won the game when Bryan Edwards pulled in a 33-yard pass from Carr and leaped across the goal line.
But upon further review, Edwards was down before crossing the goal line. That set up a comedy of errors that included a false start at the goal line by rookie right tackle Alex Leatherwood and a back-breaking interception when a Carr throw tipped off the hands of Willie Snead and into the waiting arms of Ravens cornerback Anthony Averett.
No touchdown. No field goal. Possession of the ball back to the Ravens, needing just a field goal to win.
In the past, such transgressions would have spelled disaster. But this is a different version of the Raiders, whose defense was retooled and remade during the offseason and showed up time and again late on Monday to keep the game close and, ultimately, save the day.
All of which came together when defensive end Carl Nassib came flying off the edge to sack and force a fumble from Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson that Darius Philon scooped up at the Baltimore 27-yard line.
“No one blinked,” Nassib said.
The Raiders seemed to be setting up for a field goal to end it, but on second down they lost track of Carlson on the sideline, which resulted in a delay of game penalty that knocked them back 5 yards and potentially out of Carlson’s reach.
That changed the Raiders’ plans. On second and 14, Carr dropped back, waited for Jones to break free and then lofted a beautiful ball to him for the touchdown.
“I felt like I died and woke up. And then died again,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said of the pulsating final few sequences.
Said Carr: “It always feels great to win that way.”
The Raiders pushed it to overtime thanks to a clutch 5-play, 38-yard drive that covered all but two seconds of the 37 seconds Carr had to work with. Starting from his own 25-yard line, Carr connected on a pair of throws covering 20 and 18 yards to Edwards to get the Raiders to the Ravens’ 37-yard line.
After the Raiders spiked the ball to stop the clock, Carlson came running onto the field and calmly kicked a 55-yard field goal to tie the game 27-27 to send it to the extra period.
The Ravens had taken a three-point lead when Justin Tucker booted a 47-yard field goal. To put the kick, and Tucker, in perspective, it was 48th straight fourth-quarter field goal.
Carr, though, wasn’t about to give in. Working without timeouts and needing to come up with some big plays, he dialed up Edwards on two straight plays to get the Raiders close enough for Carlson to kick it into overtime.
“I hope this is a sign of things to come for us,” Carr said. “Who cares how we did it. Let’s just win. I don’t care. We won the game. That’s all that matters.”
Carr finished 34 of 56 for 435 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. That it came on a night when the run game produced just 81 yards on 21 carries made it all the more impressive.
Maxx Crosby finished with two sacks to lead a revitalized defense. “We just gotta keep it rolling,” Crosby said.
The Raiders survived a bumpy beginning to the first half in which the moment almost appeared too big for them. Carr was out of rhythm and off-target while forcing targets to Waller, either by design or simply out of over-reliance on his favorite weapon.
The result was a disjointed offensive effort and four straight possessions that ended in punts. All of which led to the Ravens taking a 14-0 lead on a pair of six-play, 60-plus yard drives that featured the legs, arm and moxie of Jackson.
Carr eventually settled down, as did a fast-flying Raiders defense, which did a better job in the second quarter of managing the danger and potency of Jackson.
A 9-play, 75-yard drive capped off by a 2-yard touchdown run Jacobs pulled the Raiders within 14-7.
After stopping the Ravens on downs on the following drive, Carr drove the Raiders deep enough into Baltimore territory to set up Carlson up for a 34-yard field goal to make it 14-10.