But if Monday was indeed the final Raider game played at the Oakland Coliseum, Raiders players dug deep to give a loyal-to-a-fault fan base a fitting finale.
With the Coliseum packed with fans shunning Christmas Eve at home to watch a pair of bad football teams in a meaningless game, the Raiders rolled over the Denver Broncos in a 27-14 win.
It was beyond one of the few adequate performances from the Raiders this season. It was a dominant showing against a division rival with a coach fighting for his job.
Dwayne Harris sets tone for big Raiders night
From the moment of Dwayne Harris’ Oakland Coliseum record 99-yard punt return touchdown to open the game’s scoring, this was the Raiders’ night.
An energized fan base cheered as if they were watching a playoff game, showering Harris with appreciation for his heads-up play on a ball that appeared to be downed by a Broncos special teamer, but wasn’t.
When Doug Martin broke free around the edge for a 24-yard touchdown in the second quarter, Oakland extended its lead to 14-0 and eventually took a 17-0 lead into halftime.
The Broncos threatened late, mounting an 82-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter to cut the lead to two possessions. The Raiders responded with a 72-yard, 7:20 touchdown drive of their own to increase their lead to 24-7.
Raiders survive Gruden’s miscues
Even late gaffes from head coach Jon Gruden didn’t sink Oakland. When the Broncos scored again on a Case Keenum pass to Courtland Sutton, Gruden threw a challenge flag, thinking Keenum had crossed the line of scrimmage.
There were a multitude of problems with the challenge. Officials didn’t see the flag until after the extra point was kicked. Keenum had, in fact, not crossed the line of scrimmage. It was a legal throw.
But the most frustrating part of Gruden’s red flag for Raiders fans was that the play was not eligible to be challenged. It was a scoring play that was automatically reviewed by the officials, a rule known by the most casual of football fans.
That apparently was unclear to Gruden, whose red flag ended up costing the Raiders a timeout.
When Gruden ran the ball three straight times for a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, it looked like the Broncos had a chance to pull off the comeback trailing 24-14 with around five minutes remaining.
But Keenum sealed Denver’s fate, throwing interceptions on back-to-back possessions to ensure that Oakland fans would not be disappointed on this Christmas Eve.
Derek Carr thanks fans
Quarterback Derek Carr hung around on the field after the game, running around the stadium to high-five fans in the stands not knowing if this would be his last hurrah at the Coliseum.
“It’s been five years,” Carr told ESPN after the game. “It’s been a lot of hard times and a lot of fun times. We’ve all gone through it together. Whether you like us or not, Raider Nation is the most loyal fans in the world.
“We don’t know if we’ll be here this year. If not, I wanted to make sure I took the chance to say thank you to all of them. Obviously I couldn’t see everybody, but I tried to get to everybody and just tell them thanks for always having our backs.”
Raiders QB Derek Carr took a (possible) farewell lap before exiting field. And then a fan rushed it. Wait for it. pic.twitter.com/S0heaoOTew
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) December 25, 2018
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 25, 2018
Ugly showing for Denver
For the Broncos, it was a tepid performance from a defeated team that appeared to prefer being home with family and friends on Christmas Eve to a date with the Black Hole. Late signs of life were snuffed out by Keenum’s miscues, and head coach Vance Joseph will spend his Christmas concerned about his job security.
Monday, however, was about the Raiders and their fans. The departure of their team is inevitable. But they saw one last reason to smile if what they watched was the last game in Oakland.
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