With 1:50 left on the clock and the Las Vegas Raiders trailing by one to the Miami Dolphins in Week 16, Josh Jacobs had a decision to make. It was second down and the Dolphins were daring him to score a touchdown — a score that would put the Raiders up by at least five, possibly seven if they were to convert a two-point try.
Instead, Jacobs fell down.
Now, with 45 fewer seconds on the clock, the Raiders were posed with another chance to score and extend their lead to more than a field goal with the Dolphins out of timeouts.
Instead, they opted to take a knee.
With 19 seconds left on the clock, Daniel Carlson (whose missed extra point had them down by a point) knocked home a 22-yard field goal, putting the Raiders up by two.
18 seconds later, the Raiders were losing again — their season officially over (although that had all been decided the week prior). Needing to go 40 yards in 19 seconds with no timeouts, the Dolphins and Ryan Fitzpatrick — who took over for Tua Tagovailoa late in the fourth — made it look easy. Their first play of the drive was a 34-yard pass down the sideline aided by rookie Damon Arnette’s coverage blunder and third-year pass rusher Arden Key’s unthinkable facemask penalty.
In fact, the Dolphins chose to waste time and throw the ball away on their next pass before kicker Jason Sanders easily knocked home a 44-yard field goal to give his team the win.
Derek Carr called it one of the hardest losses he’s ever suffered, and who could blame him in a game he fought to play in — making big plays when the team needed it — before watching his defense let him down yet again.
As far as the decision to kick the field goal and not score a touchdown, I’ll start by admitting that neither decision is a bad one. Being up by 5 or 7 with a minute left, or being up two with 19 seconds left — neither are situations you’d expect to lose. With that said, however, I’m convinced that the route they went was the riskier one.
The Raider defense — as atrocious as it has been all season — actually played pretty well Saturday. Despite missing two of their three best linebackers, two of their three best safeties and one of their best defensive lineman, the Raider defense forced five punts (including three in a row in the second half), while also limiting three other red zone drives to field goals.
In fact, of the two touchdown drives they allowed, the second — which put the Dolphins up 23-22 with 2:55 remaining — was a 59-yard touchdown stemming from a check-down pass and astonishingly bad tackling.
I say all this, because my argument for scoring the touchdown and leaving a tad more time on the clock rests on the fact that the Raider defense did a surprisingly good job of keeping the opposing team out of the end zone when faced with a short field. By scoring the touchdown, the only way they would lose was if Miami marched down the field and punched it into the end zone. And that’s assuming they don’t convert the two-point try, which would have put them in a situation where they would end regulation tied at worst.
Putting those odds up against Miami gaining 40 yards and then sending out one of the better kickers in the league, and I’ll lean with the former.
Offensive MVP: Darren Waller and Nelson Agholor
I know Waller has had more eye-popping numbers at times this season, but Saturday night seemed like his most dominant. Every time Carr threw it up down the right sideline, Waller came down with it no matter the coverage surrounding him. He finished with five catches (on six targets) for 112 yards.
Agholor, meanwhile, had five catches (on six targets) for 155 yards and a touchdown — an 85-yarder that was Carr’s best play of the game. After shifting down field during a broken play, Agholor made a great catch and ran away from everyone for the go-ahead touchdown.
Defensive MVP: Rod Marinelli?
The team ended the night with three sacks, seven-and-a-half tackles for a loss and six quarterback hits. It wasn’t a perfect night, but even with a depleted unit, they felt more competitive and on top of things. If not for Arnette’s blunder at the end of the game and some really atrocious tackling on Gaskins’ big touchdown run, this unit would be waking up to a dramatically different narrative, I think.
This doesn’t mean Marinelli deserves the full-time job, but at least the Raiders are seeing hints that maybe the talent they have wasn’t the biggest problem.
- The Raiders failed to score on their opening drive for the fifth straight week, which has been one of the many issues this season. On the year, they have seven punts, two turnovers, one missed field goal, two field goals and three touchdowns on opening drives.
- The most absurd stat from Saturday was the fact that the Raiders were 0/10 on third downs. How you do that and even remain competitive is beyond me, but the offense had plenty of opportunities to extend the lead or put the game out of reach and they simply failed to do so.
- One of the most frustrating moments of the game, which will mostly be overlooked because of how the game ended, was what the Raiders did at the end of the first half. They got the ball with 1:45 on the clock, and proceeded to gain three first downs on successive plays — and then a fourth two plays later. With 29 seconds left, the Raiders were at the Miami 21 with one timeout remaining. The next play was a bizarre run call to Jalen Richard for one yard, forcing them to burn their final timeout — and leaving them with a third down (first down was a spike to stop the clock) and nine. After an incomplete pass, a once-promising drive ended with a short field goal.
- The least dangerous pass-catcher on the Raider roster (maybe in the league?) is Jason Witten. He finished the game with five targets — more than everyone except Waller, Agholor and Hunter Renfrow. I wish I knew why Gruden is so obsessed with Witten when his backup (Foster Moreau) is dramatically more dynamic.
- The Raiders’ inability to score touchdowns in the red zone remained an issue Sunday. After scoring on their first trip via a Carr jump over the pile, the Raiders got inside the five twice more (not including their final drive, when they intentionally didn’t score) and settled for field goals. Inside the five on those drives, the Raider offense had the following outcomes: incomplete, incomplete, incomplete, three-yard completion. Their touchdown drive? Two runs.