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Just like the first meeting between these two teams, it was a battle to the bitter end. In this case, that bitter end was further down the line because the game went into overtime.
Neither team can claim they should’ve won in regulation because for both teams it was a matter of missed opportunities. Ultimately, again, just like the first meeting, the game was decided on a long Chargers drive. But unlike last time, the Chargers finished it off with a touchdown to win it.
Dec 17, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA;Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) throws a touchdown pass to tight end Darren Waller (83) during the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Recently the Raiders have watched games run away from them. That may have been the case in this one as well if not for Mariota. The high-paid backup came in for the injured Derek Carr to begin the second quarter. And Mariota put this team on his back. By far his favorite target was Darren Waller. It was a 7-3 Chargers lead when Mariota came in the game. On the second play, he escaped the pocket and threw on the run for Foster Moreau along the left sideline for 22 yards. Two plays later he connected with Waller for 13 yards. Next play, Mariota picked up 11 yards on an option keeper, pushing through defenders to get past the sticks. Two plays later, Mariota launched a gorgeous dime of a throw right into the arms of Waller for a 35-yard touchdown. Come the third quarter, the Raiders were once again down 17-10. On the first play, Mariota again kept the ball on a read-option, this time picking up 26 yards. Then on third and ten, he stood in the pocket with a defender bearing down on him and delivered a strike for Waller for 25 yards. A few plays later, the Raiders were in fourth and two and Mariota again kept it to pick up the first down. A pass interference in the end zone would put the Raiders in first and goal and they scored on the next play to tie it up at 17-17. When the Raiders got the ball back, they were once again trailing 24-17. Mariota, again, put the team on his back and went on a long drive. The first play was, of course, a ten-yard pitch and catch to Waller. Four times on the drive the Raiders set up in either third or fourth down and each time, Mariota made the play. First on a four-yard, tight-window connection with Nelson Agholor, then on an 8-yard scramble, then on a seven-yard hookup with Waller on fourth and one that set the Raiders up in first and goal from the three, and finally another run by Mariota in which he broke out right, found a seam, and dove over the goal line from two yards out. Two missed field goals by the Chargers would keep the score at 24-24 at the end of regulation to send it to overtime. It was a Mariota interception that set up the second field goal -- on a play he never should have been throwing -- but to his credit, he got on his horse and made the tackle to keep Chris Harris Jr from making it a pick-six. They would miss the field goal attempt from 51 yards out. In the overtime period, the Raiders got the ball first. Mariota again got big yard on two read-option keepers early in the drive. Unfortunately, the Raiders would run it up the middle twice in goal to go and then elected to pass on third down that was batted down to settle for a field goal. With the way the defense was purging yards, the Raiders needed a touchdown to keep it out of the hands of the Chargers' offense. They didn't do that and they drove for the game-winning touchdown. Mariota finished as the team's leading rusher with 88 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. He also had 226 yards passing with a touchdown and an interception. His favorite target, Waller, had 150 yards and a touchdown on nine catches, putting him seven catches away of 100, 33 yards from 1,000, and two touchdowns from 10 on the season with two games remaining.
Baller: DE Carl Nassib
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 22: Defensive end Carl Nassib #94 and defensive end Maxx Crosby #98 of the Las Vegas Raiders high five prior to a game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Allegiant Stadium on November 22, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)
Welcome back, Carl. For reasons that a bit hazy, Nassib was as healthy scratch the past two weeks. Based on how he played in this game, they certainly could've used him. The first Chargers' drive alone, Nassib had a run stuff for no gain, got in the backfield to force a tackle for loss, and had a tackle for loss of his own. Those plays set up two-third and long plays, but the Chargers were able to pick it up each time. He added a pass breakup at the line early in the second quarter. Then ended the Chargers drive to begin the third quarter with another tackle for loss on third and one. Following the Mariota interception that was returned to the 33-yard-line, Nassib had a run stop on the next play. Two plays later, Herbert was sacked on third and short and they missed the 51-yard field goal. He finished with a nice stat line of five combined tackles (two solo), two for a loss, a QB hit, and a pass defended.
Baller: WR Nelson Agholor
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 25: Nelson Agholor #15 of the Las Vegas Raiders attempts to make a catch in the third quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Allegiant Stadium on October 25, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
The first third-down conversion of the day was a 30-yard completion to Agholor on third and seven. It set the Raiders up in first and goal at the five-yard-line and led to a field goal. In the third quarter, the Raiders had driven to the 11-yard-line when Agholor forced a pass interference penalty in the end zone to put them in first and goal that one-yard-line. They would score on the next play to tie it at 17-17. Agholor added a four-yard catch on 4th and two on the Raiders' next scoring drive and a nine-yard catch on third and ten to set up a 4th and one that the Raiders converted to keep their final drive of regulation alive. He finished with four catches for 49 yards.
Las Vegas Raiders defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins (90) looks on during a time out against the Buffalo Bills during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
DT Johnathan Hankins -- Had three run stops and was in his gap to force a fourth. Two of his stops came on the final series of a drive to help hold the Chargers to a field goal. LB Raekwon McMillan -- On just 28 snaps, McMillan had five combined tackles and a forced fumble. Four of those tackles were run stuffs with just one of them earning a yard. His final tackles came with the Chargers in first and goal at the one-yard-line at end of the game. He made the stop for no gain, then knocked the ball out on Justin Herbert's attempt to reach over the goal line. He couldn't do it a third time and Herbert scored the game-winning TD.
Top Buster: CB Trayvon Mullen
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 15: Trayvon Mullen #27 of the Las Vegas Raiders gets ready to take the field against the Denver Broncos at Allegiant Stadium on November 15, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
I don't think I've ever seen Mullen get abused this badly in a game. When he wasn't giving up the catch, he was committing crushing penalties. His bad day started right away on the first drive. With the Chargers having just moved into Raiders territory, he gave up an 18-yard catch to put them in scoring range. Two plays later, he gave up an eight-yard catch. Then on third and six, he gave up a 17-yard catch to put them at the 11-yard-line. They scored the touchdown two plays later. The Raiders were able to score a couple times after that to take a 10-7 lead. But it wouldn't last. A few plays into the following Chargers' drive, Herbert was flushed from the pocket only to find his tight end Hunter Henry for a 15-yard gain with Mullen in coverage. From there the Chargers would move into field goal range. It was almost more because Mullen gave up an 11-yard catch on third and nine that put them in first and goal. The defense stiffened up on the next three plays to keep it at a field goal. The first play of the third quarter was a pass interference penalty on Mullen. He also grabbed the facemask to tack on 15 yards for a 28-yard gain to put the Chargers instantly in Raiders territory at the 47. Lucky for him, the Raiders were able to make the stop three plays later to force a punt. On the next drive, with the score tied up at 17-17, the Chargers started moving again. The firstcx completion was a 15-yarder courtesy of Mullen. They moved to the 12-yard-line, and it could've stopped there but on third and nine, Mullen was flagged for pass interference in the end zone to give them a first and goal at the one. They scored on the next play. After the Raiders went up by a field goal in the overtime period, the Chargers were looking to answer. They got things going when on the second play, Mullen was flagged for a 20-yard pass interference penalty. They went on to score the game-winning touchdown.
Buster: LB Nick Kwiatkoski
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 22: Head coach Jon Gruden talks with inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski #44 of the Las Vegas Raiders during warmups prior to an NFL game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Allegiant Stadium on November 22, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Rough couple of games for Kwiatkoski. I don't know if they're asking too much of him or what, but he's been getting victimized a lot lately. As we know the Chargers' first drive went for a touchdown. On the second play of that drive, Kwiatkoski gave up an 8-yard first-down catch. Three plays later, they were in third and 11 and Kwiatkoski gave up a 14-yard catch. Their next scoring drive came in the second quarter. The first play Nick gave up a nine-yard run. Then on third and five, he gave up a seven-yard catch. After the Raiders came back to tie it in the third quarter, they could have limited the Chargers' response to a field goal, but in third and five, Nick gave up a 19-yard catch that put them at the 12-yard-line. From there it was the Mullen PI and a one-yard TD run that gave the Chargers a touchdown lead again. The dagger play in overtime was a 53-yard catch by Jaylon Guyton that put the Chargers in first and goal at the two-yard line. The defense stopped the Chargers three times, but the problem was the first stop was accompanied by a lowering the helmet penalty on Kwiatkoski that made it first and goal from the one. The extra down and a yard closer was just enough for the Chargers to punch it in on third down to win it.
Busters: LT Kolton Miller, LG Denzelle Good, RT Trent Brown
CLEVELAND, OHIO - NOVEMBER 01: (L-R) Patrick Omameh #78, Denzelle Good #71, Lamarcus Joyner #29 and Trayvon Mullen #27 of the Las Vegas Raiders lead teammates onto the field prior to the NFL game against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 01, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Josh Jacobs averaged just 2.9 yards per carry in this game. And it wasn't all his fault. He seemed to be fighting a losing battle much of the game because a few of his linemen couldn't keep the Chargers' defenders out of the backfield and open up run lanes for him. The first play of the game saw Good miss his block to get Jacobs stuffed for a one-yard gain. That series ended in a three-and-out. Jacobs would have his longest run of the game (20 yards) on the next drive thanks to a Rodney Hudson block. Proving he can still get big yards when he has a little room to do so. The next drive started with Kolton Miller getting Jacobs stuffed for a two-yard gain. That drive went for a touchdown, but the running backs would have just five yards on three carries due in part to poor blocking. The drive after that started with a run tackle for a five-yard loss. And somehow none of these three blocked a single defender. The tackle was eventually made by the guy Brown was supposed to block. It led to another three-and-out. While it was supposed to be the raiders making the final drive to try and score, it ended up being the Chargers who would score just before the half. In order for the Raiders to get their touchdown early in the third quarter, they would need to go for it on fourth and two because Trent Brown didn't make his block on third and one to give up a tackle for loss. The next drive featured two plays in which the Raiders went for it on fourth down. In both cases, it was because, on third down, Miller gave up a run stuff for no gain. On the play just before Mariota threw the interception, Brown had given up a run stuff. Then in the overtime period, on second and goal from the three, Good missed his block to get Jacobs stuffed in the backfield for a two-yard loss. He keeps that block and we may be having a very different conversation right now. Let's say Jacobs picks up one or two yards. Then instead of third and five, it could be third and one or two. Even if they don't pick up the third down, the short-yardage could make it a four down situation. And remember, a touchdown ends it right there. But alas, it was third and goal from the five, and Mariota dropped back to pass, Brown's man got away from him to bat it down so the Raiders had to settle for the field goal. Then the Chargers ended it.
Buster: P AJ Cole
Las Vegas Raiders punter AJ Cole (6) trains during an NFL football training camp practice Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
The end of the first half featured a shanked punt by Cole that traveled all of 19 yards. It gave the Chargers the ball at the Las Vegas 49-yard-line. That was just the kind of favor the Chargers needed in order to have a great shot to score before the half. They had one minute. They only needed 35 seconds. Four plays and they scored the touchdown to go up 17-10 at the half. At the end of regulation, the Raiders figured why not try a 65-yard field goal to try and win it. It would have been an NFL record, but the game is indoors and Daniel Carlson has hit every kick he's attempted from outside 50 yards this season, including a couple of 54-yarders. Carlson wouldn't get the chance because Cole bobbled the snap. That's Cole's only two jobs. Punting and holding. And he botched both of them Thursday night. One helped lead to a touchdown drive, the other prevented even the opportunity to score to win it in regulation.
Buster: HC Jon Gruden
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 15: Head coach Jon Gruden of the Las Vegas Raiders looks on against the Denver Broncos during the first quarter at Allegiant Stadium on November 15, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
No, this isn't about him wearing an Oakland Raiders hat in the first half. Although, it shouldn't have been seen as a negative that he did honestly. They say they embrace their Oakland heritage just as they do their LA history, so embrace it. I don't want to retrace a lot of things that have gone wrong with this team during its second consecutive late-season collapse. But there were a few things in this game that stuck in my craw. Namely, it seems like when the Raiders pass when they should run and vice versa. In the final minutes of the game, the Raiders were in field goal range, approaching the red zone. There was absolutely no reason to be putting the ball in the air and yet there was Mariota dropping back to pass. It was picked and returned 51 yards. It was only a lucky second missed field goal that saved the Raiders from losing in regulation. In overtime, the Raiders were in first and goal at the four-yard line. The two biggest plays on the drive were read-option keepers by Mariota. In fact, his RO keepers were working all day long. And yet with three downs to go four yards, he didn't have one read-option keeper. Gruden said the final play was an RPO which Mariota chose to pass. The problem was when he did, his best receiver -- Darren Waller -- was on the opposite side of the field in pass block. Toss in that Jason Witten keeps getting more snaps than Foster Moreau and that Carl Nassib proved in the game that he probably should not have been inactive the previous two weeks (especially last week against the Colts when the Raiders had all of one pressure the entire game) and you have to wonder about some of these personnel decisions as well. Oh, and, yeah, the Raiders have lost four of their last five games with their only win being that clusterf@%k against the Jets to drop to 7-7 after starting the season 6-3 and headed for one of the easiest home stretches in the league. I guess nothing is easy.