LAS VEGAS — Put yourself in Derek Carr’s shoes. It’s overtime. Paydirt is a few yards away. You throw a tight spiral that goes through the receiver’s hands at the goal line, then ricochets off a defender’s shoulder pads and pops up for a soft interception. Disaster.
This is how you lose. One team's miracle is another team’s nightmare.
“It’s like, ‘Holy crap! Not like this!’” Carr said, replaying his thoughts after what turned out to be a dramatic victory on Monday night.
The Las Vegas Raiders played their first real game before a live audience at their sparkling new home, Allegiant Stadium, since the franchise moved here last year. And what a debut, worthy of marquee billing (now that it’s over). They rallied from two touchdowns down to force overtime, then finished off the Baltimore Ravens, 33-27, after it appeared they had won, were destined to lose, then wound up winning after all.
“Emotional rollercoaster,” is what Raiders running back Josh Jacobs called it.
The Raiders won when Carr beat an all-out blitz by connecting with Zay Jones for a 31-yard touchdown that was set up by Lamar Jackson’s second lost fumble of the second half. Just when Carr thought the game had slipped away, he got a reprieve.
“It feels like my career,” the eighth-year, sometimes-maligned vet assessed. “Yay! Crap."
The finish was so bizarre that minutes before the game actually ended, players engaged in the congratulatory handshakes, bro hugs and small talk on the field that are typical after the games, thinking that the Raiders had won in OT on a 33-yard touchdown catch by Bryan Edwards.
Not so fast. Clear the field. The replay showed that Edwards landed about a yard shy of the goal line.
Now this is the place, with the stadium situated in the shadows of the famous Las Vegas Strip, where you can get odds on anything.
The odds of a team throwing an end zone interception after having it first-and-goal from the 1-yard line? I’m guessing that’s like some 1-in-955,000 action.
It’s no wonder that Raiders coach Jon Gruden, pondering the swing in fortune, declared that he “almost died.”
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Somewhere, Al Davis, the late Raiders owner and NFL nemesis, might be laughing at all of us.
I mean, it’s just so fitting that something wacky would happen when the Raiders marked the occasion of some fresh milestone. After all, this is the franchise that has The Holy Roller, The Immaculate Reception and The Tuck Rule in its annals. So, new stadium, new episode of weirdness makes perfect sense.
Then again, there was some fundamental football at work, too.
Carr passed 56 times for 435 yards and except for the pick in OT that wasn’t his fault, he didn’t throw an interception. He found his amazing tight end, Darren Waller, 10 times for 105 yards. And Hunter Renfrow (6 catches, 70 yards) deserves mention for his 27-yard tip-toe job down the sideline that got the juices flowing early in OT. The kicker, Daniel Carlson, forced overtime by nailing a 55-yarder with two seconds on the clock in regulation. The defense pummeled Jackson into the two fumbles that led to touchdowns. First, in the fourth quarter, it was D-tackle Quinton Jefferson poking the ball loose, which led to a 15-yard TD run by Jacobs. In the OT, Carl Nassib barreled around the corner and jarred the ball loose, which gave the Raiders the ball at the Ravens’ 27-yard line.
That the Raiders defense, which gave up 189 rushing yards, came up big in the clutch says something about the growth that is needed if this team is to ultimately blossom — as promised — under Gruden. There’s another new D-coordinator in the mix in Gus Bradley and he’s supplemented by Rod Marinelli, whose NFL track record is built on productive D-lines. There’s still much work to do with the defense. But the unit sure didn’t fold up in crunch time.
It all added up to the Raiders winning the type of game that they probably would have lost last year, when they faded down the stretch and finished 8-8.
No, this team won’t go far if it has to repeatedly climb out of 14-0 holes. Yet there’s also something to be said for the grit that the Raiders demonstrated as some sort of first impression for the home fans.
“Who cares how we do it?” Carr maintained. “Let’s just win.”
They played with fire. No, they played with the "Al Flame" towering on the plaza behind one of the end zones, and didn’t get burned.
But at this point, the Raiders are still playing with house money.