Updated January 15, 2022 - 8:30 pm
CINCINNATI — The dynamics that led to the conclusion of the Raiders’ season were as familiar as they were frustrating. Needing to play clean, efficient football Saturday in their wild-card playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Raiders fell woefully short in both categories.
The result was a 26-19 loss that sent them into an offseason filled with uncertainty.
If not for their self-inflicted wounds, they would be spending next week preparing for the next playoff opponent rather than contemplating the short- and long-range future of the franchise.
“I know I’m going to be upset when I watch the film,” running back Josh Jacobs said.
The whole team will. The Raiders surpassed the Bengals in total yards (385 to 308) first downs (23-18) and third-down efficiency, converting 8 of 18 attempts to 5 of 12, only to come up short. That’s because they could not do better on the Bengals’ side of the field and committed too many penalties.
Of the six trips they made inside the Bengals’ 29-yard line, the Raiders managed one touchdown while settling for four field goals. The most obvious and painful failure occurred on their last drive when they fought to the Bengals’ 9-yard line only to come up empty in the closing seconds.
After spiking the ball to kill the clock with 30 seconds remaining, three ensuing plays failed to push the ball forward, including the last-gasp throw Derek Carr tried to get to Zay Zones between a sea of defensive hands.
Jones never had a chance. When Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt came up with it for a game-saving interception, one of the most successful Raiders seasons in recent years came to an abrupt end.
“We just didn’t play good enough in the red zone today,” Raiders interim coach Rich Bisaccia said. “Not enough touchdowns. We made field goals.”
In so doing, the Raiders became the second team in 18 seasons to get into the red zone five or more times in a playoff game but only score one touchdown. It’s been a season-long issue. Their 2021 red zone touchdown percentage of 49.2 is their fourth-lowest mark in 15 seasons, according to Sport Radar.
That was a recipe for disaster against the high-powered Bengals, who played just well enough to continually keep the Raiders at arms length and, when it came down to the closing seconds, came up with a game-saving play.
“You can talk about the red zone … everything is just frustrating right now,” said Carr, who finished with 310 yards passing, a touchdown and an interception, completing 29 of 54 attempts.“I didn’t expect it to go this way. I didn’t feel like it would go this way all through the game. At any point. All the way up until the last couple seconds.”
But it did.
In many ways, the Raiders have mostly themselves to blame. In a season for which so much was accomplished, they head to the offseason knowing they were their worst enemy in far too many of their losses.
“We kind of shot ourselves in the foot sometimes,” tight end Darren Waller said.
That they nearly overcame their own mistakes to beat a division-winning team in a playoff game was both a frustrating letdown and a poignant eye-opener.
“You don’t know until you play in a playoff game. But you go out there, and you’re like, oh yeah, we can do this,” Carr said. “And so you get a taste of it and, I don’t know, it did something to my heart. I thought it was on fire … I just can’t not play in the playoffs.”