Down 7-0 with 1:35 remaining in the first quarter, Derek Carr had to know he needed points on this drive. The Las Vegas Raiders had driven down to the 2-yard line and were facing third-and-goal when he rolled out to his right on a designed boot. With nobody open, Carr kept rolling and rolling and rolling until all of a sudden he ran out of bounds and came up injured with a pulled groin that would remove him for the remainder of the game.
Now, down 7-3 to the Los Angeles Chargers (after a 22-yard field goal from Daniel Carlson), the Raiders were facing a bleak outlook: a defense that had just about no hope of stopping anyone and a backup quarterback who hadn’t taken a snap all season.
In some ways, to think that the Raiders took the lead in overtime of this game — before eventually losing 31-27 — was astonishing. In fact, if you consider that they did it without six starters on defense, Henry Ruggs III, their offensive coordinator or Hunter Renfrow (who suffered a concussion on the fifth play of the second half) it’s even more remarkable.
And yet, it happened — in no small part because of the performance of Marcus Mariota and his play-calling coach Jon Gruden. This isn’t to say either man was perfect Thursday night (they weren’t), but given the circumstances, it feels ridiculous to have expected anything more from either guy.
Yes, Mariota threw a devastating interception late in the fourth quarter (and should have had another one in overtime), and yes, Gruden’s play-calling on third-and-goal in both the first quarter and overtime left something to be desired, but rebuilding a gameplan with a completely different quarterback in real time (without an offensive coordinator) wasn’t exactly an easy task.
In the end, though, none of this matters. The Raiders lost, and in excruciating fashion, all but eliminating them from playoff contention this season. Now at 7-7, with a starting quarterback whose health is in question and a defense that couldn’t dream of stopping even a rookie quarterback without his two best receivers, it was probably best to rip that band-aid off now.
Time for some awards…
Offensive MVP: Marcus Mariota
Full disclosure: I attended the University of Oregon, and Mariota is the best college quarterback I’ve ever seen. I was skeptical that he’d translate perfectly to the pros, but I’m not sure there’s anyone most Duck fans root harder for than Mariota (Justin Herbert is a close second at the moment). To see him do what he did Thursday was absolutely amazing.
Remember, this was a guy who was the second overall pick at one point — but who had been left for dead, destined to become a career backup by most of the league. Thursday night, however, he blew that idea to smithereens.
Mariota finished 17/28 for 226 yards with one passing touchdown and one interception, while adding 88 yards and another touchdown on the ground. For a guy who hadn’t played an NFL snap in 11 months, who hadn’t been getting many (if any) first-team reps in practice and who had to step into a tough spot, that was downright heroic. Any Raider fan who thought they had a chance of winning this game when Carr went out is lying to themselves — and yet Mariota put them on his back and kept them alive as long as he could. He wasn’t perfect, but he was damn close.
Defensive MVP: Defensive Line
This is going to sound foolish in a game in which they totalled just one sack, but in watching the game, I was impressed by this unit anyways. They held the Chargers to just 96 yards on 29 carries (3.3 YPC) and did notch five quarterback hits (and the one sack) as well.
Honestly, I think this group gets more crap than they deserve simply because nobody behind them is capable of covering, even for a moment. Dudes were perpetually wide open in the defensive backfield, and so at the first sign of pressure Herbert got the ball out with ease.
- There has been some criticism of Gruden’s playcalling at the end of the first half. The scene: after Mariota came in and marched the Raiders 86 yards for a touchdown, the Chargers responded with a field goal. In a 10-10 game, the Raiders got the ball back with 1:52 left. The first play was a run from Theo Riddick for a loss of five, then a six-yard pass to Darren Waller and a four-yard pass to Hunter Renfrow. The Chargers used two timeouts and were able to preserve plenty of time to allow for yet another touchdown drive after a 19-yard Raider punt. Did Gruden get too conservative? I don’t know. I tend to think the play-calling was fine for a few reasons: first, 1:52 is plenty of time left to not abandon the run, and the play got blown up — it happens. Then he threw it twice, and while both were short of the sticks, this wasn’t an obvious “get to the half situation”. Let’s also not forget they had a backup quarterback in the game that — yes, had been successful already — but who had just one series under his belt.
- The Chargers finished 7/12 on third downs in the game (they were 5/7 in the first half). They also had a total of five first downs from Raider penalties. No Bueno.
- Part of the problem was Hunter Henry. For most of the game, he found himself matched up with Nick Kwiatkoski or one of the Raider safeties, none of whom had any capacity to cover him in a meaningful way.
- If I had one Gruden-related issue, it was the decision to call the stupid boot-right play on third-and-goal twice. Why cut the field in half (or less)? Neither play had a prayer, and especially the second time, it eliminated Mariota’s ability to make something happen with his legs entirely. Brutal.