Resilient Raiders pushed to limit, but find a way to make playoffs with OT win over Chargers

The Las Vegas Raiders had been through everything by the time they got to overtime on Sunday night. Long before their winner-take-all game against the Los Angeles Chargers. Definitely in the final five minutes of regulation and overtime against the Chargers.

The resilience the Raiders showed to make the playoffs was remarkable. Interim head coach Rich Bisaccia, who might be an underrated Coach of the Year candidate, led the Raiders to five wins in their past seven games, including a thrilling matchup against the Chargers on Sunday night. The Raiders won 35-32 in overtime with a field goal as time expired to get an AFC wild-card spot, despite multiple fourth-down conversions by Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert and a touchdown to Mike Williams with no time on the clock in regulation that forced overtime.

The Raiders won the coin toss in overtime and drove to get a go-ahead field goal. The Chargers matched it with a field goal of their own, after Herbert hit a fourth-and-9 completion to keep the game going. The Raiders kept it moving with Derek Carr making a great third-down pass to Zay Jones to get into Chargers territory with two minutes left. The Raiders ran it three times after that, not taking any risks when a tie meant a playoff berth, but the third run by Josh Jacobs broke into field-goal range. Daniel Carlson hit the field goal to win it, and the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrated too.

The Chargers were eliminated despite a heck of a fight. The Steelers needed anything but a tie in the Chargers-Raiders game to make the playoffs, and they had to wait until the final play to get it.

Las Vegas will face the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET in the wild-card round. In that playoff opener, the Raiders are 6.5-point underdogs.

The Raiders went through a ton of adversity this season. Their head coach Jon Gruden resigned after racist, anti-gay and misogynistic comments in emails were leaked. Receiver Henry Ruggs III was cut after being charged with DUI resulting in death. The Raiders suffered three bad losses in a row — one to the lowly New York Giants, the other two blowouts — to fall to 5-5. It seemed then like their season would end with another losing record. They kept battling. That served them well when Sunday's game went to overtime.

The Raiders caught some breaks late in the season, with razor-thin wins and facing teams that were severely affected by COVID-19 absences or injuries. But after all the Raiders went through this season, and in the fourth quarter and overtime on Sunday, they don't need to make excuses.

Maxx Crosby of the Las Vegas Raiders sacks Justin Herbert during the Raiders' win. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Maxx Crosby of the Las Vegas Raiders sacks Justin Herbert during the Raiders' win. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Raiders and Chargers play a thriller

There was the ridiculous notion that the Chargers and Raiders, since they'd both make the playoffs with a tie due to the Colts' loss earlier Sunday, would kneel the whole game. That was never going to happen. The competitiveness both teams showed spoke to that. Though the Steelers, who needed anything but a tie to make the playoffs, had moments of extreme worry after Williams' dramatic touchdown tied the game with no time left.

The Raiders were fired up from the start. They moved the ball on offense. Their defense did a fine job. While Chargers coach Brandon Staley will be roasted for going for it on fourth-and-1 at his own 18 in a close game, the Raiders' defense did a fine job on that play to stuff Austin Ekeler for a 2-yard loss.

That fourth-down stop was a big moment in the game. It was 17-14 at that point. The Raiders got an easy field goal after the stop. Then they extended the lead to 26-14 on Hunter Renfrow's second touchdown. Herbert threw an interception on a forced third-down pass after that, and the Raiders were in prime position to win.

The Chargers had a little life left, down 29-14 when they went on a drive late in the fourth quarter. They got a fourth-and-21 touchdown pass to Josh Palmer with 4:28 left and a two-point conversion. Given the Raiders season, it wouldn't have felt right if the win came easy.

The Raiders punted after that, narrowly avoiding a huge mistake when Chargers defensive lineman Justin Jones couldn't secure a fumble that was in his hands. The Raiders couldn't get a stop to win the game in regulation. On fourth-and-10 inside the two-minute warning, the Chargers (of course) went for it and got it, on an 11-yard catch by Keenan Allen. On fourth-and-10, the Raiders were called for holding Jared Cook.

The drive continued into Raiders territory. Herbert hit another fourth-and-10 pass, this one to Mike Williams. But only 15 seconds remained. The Chargers completed a pass to the sideline to get closer with two seconds remaining, and then Herbert threw a laser pass to Williams for the game-tying score.

The Raiders specialize in nothing coming easy. But they found a way to win, even when a tie would have been OK.

Raiders get rare playoff berth

The Raiders haven't had a win like Sunday night in many years.

The Raiders won the coin toss in overtime. Jacobs had a couple of huge runs to get the Raiders into Chargers territory. The Las Vegas drive stalled but a field goal gave it the lead. The Chargers answered with a field goal, which came after a huge fourth-and-9 pass from Herbert to Williams. But the Chargers couldn't get a stop, even though the Raiders needed just to tie to make the playoffs.

Since losing the Super Bowl at the end of the 2002 season, the Raiders made the playoffs only once. The Raiders reached the postseason in the 2016 season, but Carr broke his leg late in the season, taking a lot of excitement out of the playoff appearance. The Raiders lost their playoff opener that season in an uncompetitive, ugly game against the Houston Texans.

This was the first Raiders team to play in front of attending Las Vegas fans after the pandemic kept fans out of the stands last season. For that group to go through a taxing amount of adversity and still make the playoffs made Sunday night's win special. Even during Sunday night's game, there were plenty of times the Raiders' resolve was tested. They were ready. This team had been through plenty more than just a tense football game this season.

No matter what happens next, Sunday night gives the Raiders a reason to look back fondly on this trying season.