Another game, another finish that came down to the final play as the Raiders’ comeback fell short in a 26-19 Wild Card loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
By the time the final whistle blew, history would be made for either the Las Vegas Raiders or Cincinnati Bengals, as both teams kicked off “Super Wild Card Weekend” for the NFL. The Raiders and Bengals both entered Saturday afternoon with notable playoff victory droughts: the Raiders had not won a postseason game since the 2002 AFC Championship game, and the Bengals riding an eight-game playoff losing streak, their last win having been way back in 1990.
The story of the first half was simple: errors and missed opportunities for the Las Vegas Raiders while the Cincinnati Bengals reaped the benefits. On their first four possessions, the Bengals finished every drive with a score (two touchdowns and two field goals). On the opposite side, Las Vegas repeatedly hindered themselves with penalties, a special teams blunder (that gave the Raiders a poor starting field position), and an inconsistent rhythm on offense.
Daniel Carlson was the lone bright spot, converting two field goals to keep the Raiders in the game.
Joe Burrow threw his second touchdown of the night (courtesy of a play that should have been ruled dead via an erroneous whistle) to give the Bengals a 20-6 lead with two minutes left in the first half. After a sluggish start through the first two quarters, Derek Carr and the Raiders offense finally woke up to execute a much-needed 80-yard drive.
Carr and the offense ran a successful two-minute drill, resulting in a 14-yard Zay Jones touchdown to give Las Vegas some life heading into halftime, trailing 20-13.
Field goals and penalties were the themes of the second half for both teams, as the Raiders defense helped keep Cincinnati out of the endzone, limiting them to just three field goals. Yet Las Vegas’ offense couldn’t fully capitalize on the opportunity in the second half, similar to the sluggish start in the first two quarters. Penalties only added more obstacles, with the Raiders consistently finding themselves moving backward and facing third-and-long situations (Las Vegas converted on just 8-of-18 third-down situations.)
Daniel Carlson proved to be automatic as usual, drilling two field goals to keep Las Vegas in pace throughout the second half. And yet with the stagnant start and momentum-killing penalties, the Raiders once again found themselves in a position to stay alive on the final drive of the game.
Sluggish start and penalties prove too much for the Raiders to overcome
With two minutes left in the fourth, Derek Carr led the Raiders to the Bengals’ nine-yard line on a clutch drive (courtesy of a spectacular throw to Darren Waller to move the chains on third-and-17). While the fourth-quarter magic helped Las Vegas power their way into the postseason, the Raiders came up empty after an interception ended the Raiders’ season on fourth-and-goal.
It’s still astonishing to realize that the Las Vegas Raiders had a chance to keep their playoff run alive on a fourth-and-goal situation, with the ball in Derek Carr’s hands. It’s symbolic in a way, that Carr had an opportunity to carry the Raiders one more time after being vital in keeping the team afloat all season. Las Vegas played with an interim head coach following Jon Gruden’s resignation, they lost their first-round pick receiver and go-to deep threat in Henry Ruggs following his fatal driving crash, and the team released Damon Arnette after a series of off the field disruptions.
And yet, Las Vegas made the playoffs for the first time since 2016 when they had no business even coming close to the postseason. Any other franchise could have easily faltered down the stretch, yet Las Vegas chose to control their own destiny. After the comeback fell short, all eyes will turn towards the offseason where the Silver and Black will look to build on the late-season success through free agency and the draft.
Adding a deep threat receiver and bolstering the back seven to assist Las Vegas’ bright pass rush will be vital, but of course, the first decision above all else will be deciding which coach will helm the Silver and Black come the 2022 season.