Updated January 3, 2021 - 7:21 pm
DENVER — Given how they mimicked so many other situations that backfired on them this year, the circumstances facing the Raiders in the closing minute of their season-ending 32-31 win over the Denver Broncos were oh-so-familiar to them.
What was different was how they handled it.
In the red zone, needing to cross the goal line not once but twice to take the lead, the 8-8 Raiders conquered the one flaw in their otherwise prolific offense by getting a 1-yard touchdown run by Josh Jacobs on fourth and goal and a two-point conversion on a throw from Derek Carr to Darren Waller to push ahead of the Broncos with 24 seconds remaining.
Then, needing the kind of key defensive stop that has painfully eluded them a handful of times this year, their struggling defense finally came through by turning the Broncos away on their final drive to preserve the win.
The key play came when defensive end Maxx Crosby blocked a 63-yard field goal attempt by Brandon McManus. It was Crosby’s second blocked field goal of the game. He had never blocked a field goal before Sunday.
“We finished the game,” Crosby said. “And that’s all that matters.”
No, it doesn’t make up for the three other times the Raiders’ defense failed to hold leads at the tail end of games to turn near-certain wins into gut-wrenching losses.
And yes, in retrospect, the last-minute advantages they coughed up to the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers and Miami Dolphins over the second half of the season are the difference between finishing 8-8 rather than 11-5 and making the playoffs.
But as the Raiders head into a critical offseason, with improvement on defense of utmost importance, they at least do so on a winning note and after slaying a pair of inner demons that have tormented them throughout the year.
“I definitely feel like it’s a good setup going into this offseason and going into next year,” Crosby said.
The Raiders faced the same situation a season ago in the same setting. Only then, Carr threw incomplete to Hunter Renfrow on the two-point conversion after Carr and Renfrow had connected on a touchdown pass just a few moments before. The result was a 17-16 loss to the Broncos in the season finale.
Despite that outcome, though, there was no question the Raiders would take the same approach if the same situation presented itself. In fact, even before the seven-play, 77-yard drive to win the game, Carr tracked down his coach, Jon Gruden, to deliver a message.
“I went to coach and said, ‘We’re going to win this game, so get your two-point play ready.’” Carr explained.
Not that it didn’t come with some drama as the Raiders frantically debated what to do after Jacobs punched it in on fourth down, specifically what personnel grouping to use.
“I think we changed our mind three times,” said Gruden. It made for a chaotic scene. “We had people running back in on the field,” Jacobs said.
Fortunately, the Broncos called a timeout to get their defense squared away. It gave the Raiders time to settle themselves down, too.
“That really kind of helped us,” Jacobs said. “We would have been scrambling.”
Somehow it all worked out despite four Raiders turnovers, including two interceptions by Carr, 14 penalties for 111 yards, three lead changes and a scoreless third quarter for the Raiders.
In the process, the Raiders avoided their 15th losing record over the past 18 seasons.
All of which justified the decision by Carr to play the last two games of the season in spite of a painful groin injury that knocked him out of the Chargers game.
“I’ve seen some Raiders teams where guys tap out. I’ve seen it,” Carr said. “But there’s something about this group that we’re not built that way. That stuff right there is the kind of character I’ve been talking about from the beginning, why I feel it’s different. Why I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
Carr finished with 371 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions on 24 of 38 passing. He’s thrown for more than 4,000 yards in three straight seasons.
Waller had nine catches for 117 yards and a touchdown while playing most of the game with a leg injury. His 107 catches are a team record.
Jacobs had 89 yards to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the second consecutive season. The last Raiders player to do that was Marcus Allen.
“There were some positive things that happened this season,” Gruden said. “I’m going to enjoy the moment.”