Originally published by RaidersNewswire.com
Eight to seven. Everything you need to know about what happened on Sunday night comes from that statistic. What do those numbers mean? It’s the number of meaningful, non-end-of-half possessions the Kansas City Chiefs and Las Vegas Raiders had, and it explains why the Raiders came up four points short in their bid to sweep the defending champs: Kansas City got one more turn.
It’s why the Chiefs ran 16 more plays, gained 96 more yards and had 11 more first downs. You see, if you look at this on a yards-per-play basis, the Raiders gained 6.4 yards per play to Kansas City’s 6.3. The Raiders averaged 4.43 points per meaningful possession, while Patrick Mahomes and Co. averaged 4.38. Sometimes, the clock just doesn’t work in your favor.
In the end, however, there’s a lot to be excited about if you’re a Raider fan. I expected a blowout in this one, to be honest, given all the things working against Las Vegas: the Chiefs were coming off of a bye week, they were extra motivated having lost to the Raiders once already and the Raiders defense was depleted — with key guys either not playing (Lamarcus Joyner, Clelin Ferrell) or having missed an entire week of practice (Johnathan Abram, Maliek Collins, Johnathan Hankins, Arden Key, Isaiah Johnson and Kendal Vickers). Despite all of that, the Raiders hung with the Chiefs — forcing them to methodically work it down the field by not allowing a single play over 20 yards until Travis Kelce’s back-breaking touchdown.
The strategy was simple: force the Chiefs to be perfect all night and across a lot of short-yardage plays. Unfortunately, they were.
On the flip side, the Raiders were far from perfect — which is a problem against a group I still think is the best team in the AFC. Against the Chiefs, there is no margin for error, and yet, there were four times the Raiders made a huge mistake — and all four cost them.
The first is on Jon Gruden. Now we know that Gruden has been criticized for being conservative, and once again he deserves it — but I’d add that some bizarre play-calling also didn’t help. With 6:16 left in the first half, the Raiders had the ball first-and-goal from the 7-yard line with the score tied at 14. The first play was a short run up the middle from Devonte Booker, followed by a reverse to Nelson Agholor (why he started his sweet by running backward remains beyond me). The result: third-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
The play? A back-shoulder fade to…Bryan Edwards? It was one of two targets for the rookie, and while the pass wasn’t perfect, I remain baffled by the play call. Although, I figured, if you’re thinking this is four-down territory, then fine. But no! Instead, Jon Gruden sent the field goal unit out and the Raiders took a 17-14 lead. Against an offense the Raiders couldn’t dream of stopping consistently, this one remains hard to swallow.
And yet: the Raiders got their first stop of the game thanks to a 15-yard face mask penalty, giving the Raiders the ball back with 2:18 on the clock — with massive mistake No. 2 right around the corner…
After marching the ball into Chiefs territory, the Raiders were facing second-and-five. Carr found Agholor open on a slant that would have set the Raiders up in field goal range at the very least — but instead, Agholor dropped it and the Raiders eventually punted. More points left out on the field.
Later in the game, Agholor was back in the middle of the things — this time with the Raiders up 24-21 and with a chance to extend the lead. Facing third-and-four in their own territory, the play broke down and Carr was forced to roll right. As he did, he saw Agholor streaking down the sideline and threw a pretty good pass that would have resulted in a huge gain (and a first down). And yet, once again Agholor’s hands betrayed him — forcing yet another costly punt.
Finally, the fourth massive mistake was on defense, and it was the most obvious, the most egregious and the most costly. I understand the love for Johnathan Abram: he embodies the Raider swagger, he plays with energy and he exudes confidence on a defense desperate for it (even if it isn’t warranted). The problem? He also makes a lot of really dumb mistakes, and on Sunday night his biggest mistake came at the absolute worst time.
With 1:43 remaining in the game, the Chiefs got the ball back down by three. Here was their drive: gain of 10, incomplete pass, gain of nine, gain of 16, gain of 15, gain of three. It all set up a second-and-seven from the Raider 22 with just 34 seconds left. As they had been all drive, the Raiders came out in a conservative defense: keep everything in front of you and just don’t let them score a touchdown. To ensure this, the Raiders had three players standing in the end zone, making it nearly impossible for Mahomes to fit a ball in there from 22+ yards away. Unless…..someone messes up.
With the pocket collapsing, Mahomes rolled to his right — I’m imagining shocked to see that Travis Kelce was wide open in the middle of the end zone. When they showed a replay, it was clear what had happened: when it appeared that Mahomes might scramble, Abram abandoned the middle zone in the end zone, I suppose in hopes of tackling a potentially scrambling Mahomes?
But here is what is so confusing: for starters, Mahomes throws this ball from the 26-yard line and so when he actually lets it go, Abram is still 20 yards away from him. Second, there were two Raider defenders who would have been in perfect position to limit Mahomes to a short gain if he did decide to run! I think the cherry on top of the whole thing is that the camera cuts to Damon Arnette — a rookie — who looks disgusted at the breakdown! The fact that Arnette, who was playing in his fifth career game, couldn’t believe what had happened speaks volumes.
Offensive MVP: Derek Carr
Carr completed passes to 11 different receivers Sunday night and threw just eight incompletions — at least four of which were blatant drops. He was in command of the offense and never flinched when the pressure mounted, playing arguably the best game of his career given the circumstances.
Defensive MVP: Maxx Crosby
It’s hard to give anyone this award when the defense allows five touchdowns in eight drives, but Crosby flashed a lot even if the numbers didn’t back it up. He had a huge tackle for loss in the third quarter that eventually led to a punt — and had a couple of other “almost” plays that ended up with someone else getting the tackle for loss. So far this season, he has been the Raiders’ lone bright spot on defense, proving last season wasn’t a fluke.
- Carr did throw an interception on the last offensive play of the game, but I’ll say this: for so long it seemed like Carr wasn’t secure enough to take chances — and while this one ended up being picked, the Raiders were in a desperate spot and needed to go for it. I’m not saying it was a great throw, but it was somewhat refreshing to see him try to force it when the situation demanded it.
- Henry Ruggs III was a non-factor again. He had two touches all night, and they came on back-to-back plays with less than five minutes left in the game. I don’t get it.
- I predicted Darren Waller would finish with 7 catches, 90 yards and a touchdown. Actual line: 7 catches, 88 yards and a touchdown. COME ON NOW.
- I’ve joked about how the Raiders’ over is always easy money, and with the total set at 56 all week, the 66 total points comfortably moved them to 7-2-1 on the season (tied for the best mark in the league).
- One thing about the strategy of preventing the big play is the need for key stops. Unfortunately, the Raiders didn’t get many of them. When facing third down, the Chiefs ended up converting 5/9 times — however, twice they followed up a failed third down with a successful fourth down, meaning they got a first down 78% of the time when facing third down. No bueno.
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