How it started: A whiffed tackle from Raiders' Chandler Jones. How it ended: a miraculous TD return after all-time Patriots error
'I was just doing too much. I should have just went down with the ball.'
Chandler Jones missed a tackle and it cost the New England Patriots the game. That’s the weird paradox that got lost in what will go down as one of the most memorable football plays in Las Vegas Raiders history.
We’ll get to the infamy that lies ahead for the Patriots and wideout Jakobi Meyers. But not before recognizing how the play started for Jones and the Raiders, which turned out being every bit as consequential as the unimaginable ending. When you roll back the highlight (lowlight?), you can see that the play never should have happened.
Take the play back before Jones plowed over Patriots quarterback Mac Jones and ran 48 yards to a game-winning touchdown as Allegiant Stadium erupted in chaos. Before Meyers took a lateral from running back Rhamondre Stevenson, all the way back to the first moments of the play. Go to the snap and pay attention as Stevenson bounced left and first crossed the line of scrimmage.
That’s where you’ll see Jones miss a play that should have sent the game into overtime with a 24-24 tie.
It’s important because it explains how Chandler Jones ended up in that wide abyss of field where Meyers inexplicably heaved the ball. The reason he was there: He dove at Stevenson at the line of scrimmage and badly missed a tackle with zero seconds left on the clock. Before Jones could get up, 350-pound Patriots guard Mike Onwenu planted on top of him near the Patriots’ 47-yard line, effectively taking the defensive end out of the play.
Nine unfathomable seconds later, the play came back.
Stevenson wiggled all the way down to the Raiders' 32-yard line and lateraled the ball to Meyers, who then ran backward 8 yards and entered himself in an incalculable number of future “worst NFL plays” lists. Seeing Mac Jones 15 yards behind him in the middle of the field, Meyers heaved the ball in the quarterback’s direction. Standing in between was Chandler Jones, in nearly the exact spot of his missed tackle.
“We were in like a desperado situation,” Chandler Jones told reporters afterward. “We knew that there was zero time left on the clock. I think I saw Jakobi kind of spot up to throw it back. I was just trying to look for the nearest guy and Mac Jones was right there. I kind of just went up there and got it and broke the tackle and scored.”
And that was game. A 30-24 win with no time left on the clock that left Raiders fans going bonkers and the Patriots walking off the field slack-jawed.
As Jones put it, “The rest is history.”
It was a simplistic explanation of a play that became far more complicated than was ever intended. Had it gone according to the intent of the play, Stevenson would have been tackled by Jones at the line of scrimmage and everyone would have moved on to overtime. Instead, Jones missed the tackle and the Patriots responded by going off the rails.
“I think the coaches gave us a play just to kind of run the time out, just get down,” Stevenson told reporters. “There was only a couple seconds on the clock. I felt like I should’ve just did just that and just got down. The play started off with me with the ball, so if I didn’t pitch it back Jakobi wouldn't have had the chance to do that.
"I take full responsibility for the play, and I just got to know the situation. I got to know what’s going on in the game.”
Meyers was equally contrite, saying afterward that it was a case of “trying to do too much, trying to be a hero, I guess.”
“I was just doing too much,” Meyers said. “I should have just went down with the ball.”
Meyers and Stevenson were admirable standing in for the questions and taking the loss on their shoulders. History will still be cruel, remembering the play as one of the worst moments of NFL decision-making. Somewhere in the mix with stupefying moments like Chuck Pagano’s trick punt play early in the 2015 season (arguably the single-worst formation in league history); Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Leon Lett getting tracked down and stripped of the ball while showboating in Super Bowl XXVII; the Mark Sanchez “butt fumble” while playing for the New York Jets on Thanksgiving Day in 2012; Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jim Marshall running the wrong way 66 yards into his own end zone in 1964; and many more.
Some were big moments with significant consequences. Others were less costly in the grand scheme of things, but stunning nonetheless. All have stood the test of time and have been granted immortality inside cobbled-together rankings of NFL failures. That’s what lies ahead for Meyers and Sunday’s miscue.
As Chandler Jones said, the rest is history. And not likely to be forgotten anytime soon.