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Graney: Josh McDaniels whiffs on critical coaching decision

Even had they come all the way back, had they rallied for an improbable victory at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh — um, I mean Allegiant Stadium — the truth wouldn’t have changed Sunday night.

The Raiders are a bad football team.

They proved it again before what might as well have been a home game for the Steelers, a 23-18 win for Pittsburgh as thousands upon thousands cheered the victory while waving yellow towels.

Or maybe they were celebrating what was one of the worst coaching decisions Josh McDaniels has made in his 20 games with the team.

One reporter used the word unconscionable. That might be kind.

The Raiders somehow managed to pull within eight points with 2:25 remaining and facing a fourth-and-4 from the Steelers’ 8-yard line.

And instead of going for it — to try to convert or perhaps even score a touchdown on the play — McDaniels trotted out kicker Daniel Carlson for a 26-yard field goal. He made it, and the lead was cut to 23-18.

It was a decision that said a lot about McDaniels, who has lost 22 of his past 32 games as an NFL coach.

Hand-picked guy

His explanation: “You have two choices there, you know? Try to make it a five-point game where you can win it with a touchdown if you get the ball back, or you go for it and if you happen to convert, you have to make a 2-point conversion. Those are decisions you have to make. We were going to need another possession anyway, so it’s not a lack of confidence in (the offense).”

Really? Jimmy Garoppolo was his hand-picked quarterback. This is the guy they chose over Derek Carr. The one they put their trust in to get the job done and win games. This is the guy who was supposedly signed to run such plays. To be successful at them.

By kicking the field goal, you’re hoping the defense can get a stop. Even then, you would have to burn timeouts to do so and then drive the length of the field in search of a touchdown.

It was an analytical disaster.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, the decision to kick a field goal dropped the Raiders’ win probability from 15.8 percent to 10.2 percent.

There was a similar swing in the live betting market.

The Steelers were -500 favorites to win the game with the Raiders facing fourth-and-4. After they kicked a field goal instead of attempting to pick up a first down, Pittsburgh shot up to -1,100 on the live line.

It wasn’t a good decision. Not at all.

“Ultimately, those are my (calls),” McDaniels said. “We confer with some other people and discuss the options, but it doesn’t matter if we don’t execute. If you choose to kick it, you have to play defense. I have confidence in our defense.”

The one that whiffed on the game’s next biggest play when it allowed Pittsburgh to convert a third-and-2 from its 33 with 2:12 remaining. When the Raiders completely misplayed things on a 6-yard reception that saw Nate Hobbs blitz off the corner and rookie Jakorian Bennett fail to come up and cover Allen Robinson.

He made the catch. Game over.

So they didn’t get the stop. They failed to do the one thing that had to occur for McDaniels’ call to kick the field goal make any sense. And it still wouldn’t have.

There are some stark realities with this team. It can’t run the ball. It can’t win the line of scrimmage. It can’t block anybody. Garoppolo also isn’t doing his team any favors. He now leads the NFL with six interceptions in three games.

Even had they come all the way back, it wouldn’t have changed the narrative.

The smart thing

“I agree with what Coach did,” said running back Josh Jacobs, who managed 62 yards on 17 carries. “We had faith in our defense. They had started to play well, and we believed we could get the ball back with enough time to score.”

But they didn’t. They didn’t make the defensive play. They whiffed on it.

Doesn’t matter.

You don’t kick the field goal. You don’t assume so many things are going to fall your way. You let your guy at quarterback run a play. You do the smart thing.

Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.

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