Updated January 9, 2022 - 10:07 pm
An exhausted defense, poor execution in the red zone and an inability to get the Chargers off the field on fourth down time and time again almost did in the Raiders on Sunday.
The guile of Derek Carr on a couple of overtime drives and the right leg of Daniel Carlson made sure none of that ultimately mattered in a thrilling 35-32 win over the Chargers that pushed the Raiders (10-7) to the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and sent the Chargers back to Los Angeles and out of the postseason.
Carlson’s second field goal in overtime, this one as time expired, was his fifth of the night and split the uprights from 47 yards out. It sent a delirious crowd at Allegiant Stadium roaring from one end of the Las Vegas Strip to the other.
It staved off a heroic performance from Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, who completed 34 of 64 passes for 383 yards and three touchdowns.
“One of the most stressful games I’ve ever been a part of,” said Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby. “But we got the win.”
And with it, the fifth seed in the AFC and a trip to Cincinnati to play the Bengals at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
In doing so, they overcame the loss of head coach Jon Gruden in early October and the release of Henry Ruggs after his involvement in a fatal car accident. By winning four straight games to end the season, they made sure none of that would derail their season.
“We just had to make our mind up,” said Crosby. “At the end of the day, we had to dig deep.”
As good as Herbert was, and he was brilliant while helping the Chargers covert six of seven fourth downs, Carr was just as good, again when it mattered, guiding the Raiders on two overtime scoring drives, the last one covering eight plays and 46 yards to set up Carlson up for his second straight game-winning kick, his third in the last four games and fifth this season.
For Carr, it was the 30th game-winning drive of his career, including three over the last four games. None were more impactful or meaningful than on Sunday, with the season and a big part of his and the Raiders’ long-term future very much on the line.
“Big-time throws in big-time moments,” said Crosby.
Carr finished with 186 yards on 20 of 36 passing. He received a big lift from Josh Jacobs, who had 132 yards on 26 carries. The 34 yards Jacobs came up with on the final drive was every bit as important as Carr’s contributions.
A late touchdown by the Chargers on a fourth-and-21 from the Raiders’ 22-yard-line created a whole bunch of anxiety. The Raiders rushed just three players, allowing Herbert to set up and step into a dart to Joshua Palmer in the end zone. The Chargers converted the two-point conversion when Herbert found Austin Ekeler to make it 29-22.
The Raiders went three and out on their next possession, giving the Chargers one last chance. They cashed in, converting on two fourth downs and drawing a holding call on another to get a fresh set of downs.
It all led to a 19-play, 83-yard drive and a touchdown pass from Herbert to Mike Williams as time expired. Dustin Hopkins extra point tied the score at 29-29 and off to overtime the game went.
The Raiders were able to work their way to a 17-14 lead at halftime, but they took a windy road to get there.
An opening drive that covered 61 yards on nine plays ended with a 24-yard field goal by Carlson and a 3-0 lead, the key being Carr and Foster Moreau hooking up on a 44-yard play.
Two drives later, the Raiders were the beneficiaries of a Chargers fumbled punt return, which was recovered by rookie linebacker Divine Deablo at the Los Angeles 23-yard-line. The end result was a 12-yard touchdown throw from Carr to Renfrow and a 10-0 lead.
The Raiders’ offense went into a slump at that point, and it coincided with a Chargers revival that resulted in two straight touchdown drives to take a 14-10 lead.
The key was Herbert, whose legs bought him the necessary time to let his arm make big throws. That led to a 75-yard touchdown drive and 90-yard drive to put the Chargers ahead 14-10.
Desperate for an answer, the Raiders went 75 yards on seven plays in 1:15 to score the go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard run by Josh Jacobs. The Raiders were on the receiving end of a questionable call by the referees, who flagged Chris Harris for pass interference on Zay Jones in the end zone.
The Raiders tacked on another three points early in the third quarter when the Chargers opted to go for it on fourth and one from their own 16-yard-line. The Raiders stuffed Austin Ekeler for a 2-yard loss, setting up the Raiders at the Chargers’ 16-yard-line.
The Raiders had to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Carlson to make it 20-13.
A Carr touchdown throw to Renfrow, followed by a missed two-point conversion, and Carlson’s 52-yard field goal pushed the lead to 29-15.