Updated December 27, 2021 - 4:54 am
The buzz circulating inside Allegiant Stadium late Sunday seemed implausible only two weeks ago. But as an anxious bunch of fans lived and died on every twist and turn of the Raiders’ 17-13 win over the Denver Broncos, a new and exhilarating reality began setting in.
The Raiders’ comeback win, coupled with a series of dominoes falling fortuitously in their favor the past two weeks, has created a scenario unthinkable had anyone even mentioned it at the start of December.
The bottom line being: If the 8-7 Raiders win their last two games against the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Chargers, they will punch their ticket to the playoffs.
In spite of the off-field drama and a laundry list of injuries and COVID-related absences that have created patchwork rosters the past couple of weeks, the Raiders have fought back into the thick of things.
“We’re just finding ways to win,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “At the end of the day, I’ve been praying for moments like this. We find ways to win at the end of the year so we can just get in the tournament. That’s all we’re trying to do.”
All of which explains the evil eye Maxx Crosby shot at the Broncos (7-8) as they threw a party in the Raiders’ end zone near the end of the first half.
Denver’s impromptu celebration was the result of the second Raiders turnover they forced to turn a 7-3 deficit into a 13-7 Broncos advantage.
The shock of the sudden 10-point turnaround — and the sight of watching the Broncos’ blatant celebration — set something off among the Raiders. It ultimately fueled their second-half push to take control of their postseason fate.
“Their whole team was in the end zone, celebrating in our end zone,” Crosby said, the anger still prevalent in his voice. “I know personally I wanted to run in there by myself. That stuff bothers us.”
Rather than responding through a physical altercation, the Raiders instead imposed the type of second-half will on the Broncos that has been sorely missing on this team for the better part of two decades.
It started with an angry Josh Jacobs redeeming himself from a critical first-half fumble to gash the Broncos for 57 rushing yards while powering the Raiders on a 75-yard, go-ahead touchdown drive to start the second half. Jacobs finished with a season-high 129 yards on 27 carries, with each punishing run taking a little more out of the Broncos.
In between, the offensive line dictated play upfront in a way it has not done all season. Meanwhile, Carr made timely throws, Crosby and the defense pitched a second-half shutout, and Allegiant Stadium finally came alive to create a genuine home-field advantage.
Carr finished with 201 yards and a touchdown on 20 of 25 passing. While his costly interception on a risky screen pass attempt with 14 seconds remaining in the first half resulted in the Broncos taking a 13-7 lead, he delivered a number of big throws over the next two quarters, including a game-icing 28-yard completion to tight end Foster Moreau with two minutes left.
Crosby had a sack and two tackles for losses while anchoring a defense that surrendered just 158 yards, including 18 on the ground.
“Our defense, I really haven’t come up with a word yet to describe it,” Raiders interim coach Rich Bisaccia said. “First and foremost I’d say it was outstanding. It was phenomenal. It was awesome.”
The fight the Raiders showed has been far too absent over the years. It will be needed if the Raiders want to make good on their objectives.
“You can tell that guys want it,” Jacobs said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. Even today, all that adversity we had in the first half, people came out there and still played. We know what’s at stake. We know what we want to accomplish.”
It all has resulted in the Raiders controlling their playoff destiny.