After their fourth straight nail-biting win was put in the books, the Las Vegas Raiders let out a season’s worth of emotion out with a boisterous locker room celebration.
Players sang and danced as the Raiders clinched a playoff berth for the second time in the past 19 seasons and first time since 2016 with a 35-32 overtime victory Sunday night night against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Now, they’re on to Cincinnati to face the Bengals.
“Job is not done,” quarterback Derek Carr said, quoting his sports idol Kobe Bryant. “It does feel good. It’s exciting, but I don’t set out to just make the playoffs, although it’s been since 2016 and I didn’t even get to play. It feels cool. It’s awesome, but you know our goals. This is one of them, but there is more after that, too.”
Few thought the Raiders (10-7) could reach those goals this season after coach Jon Gruden resigned over the publication of his offensive emails in October, receiver Henry Ruggs III was cut after being charged in a fatal DUI that killed a 23-year-old woman, and Las Vegas lost five of six games.
But the Raiders responded with four straight wins to end the season, becoming the first team in NFL history to win the final four games by four points or fewer.
“If you said you thought we were going to do this, I’m going to kick you,” Carr said. “No one thought that, but the people in the building did and we acted like it, and the fact that we did it, the emotions, the feeling.”
The formula for success the past month has been consistent. The defense has stepped up its play and delivered key stops, Carr has led clutch drives and Daniel Carlson has finished it off with game-winning field goals on the final play in three of the past four weeks.
Now the Raiders need to put that sense of accomplishment in the past and prepare for a rematch with the Bengals, who won the first meeting 32-13 in Week 11.
“We’ve had a one-game, one-practice, one-play, one-day mentality here for a long time now,” interim coach Rich Bisaccia sad. “I think they went through yesterday’s victory and they took care of it last night in the locker room. … We’re onto to what’s next.”
Pass rush. Maxx Crosby and company harassed Justin Herbert all game with three sacks and pressured him on 18 dropbacks. Crosby had 11 of the pressures and two sacks himself, giving him 101 pressures for the season, third-most ever tracked by Pro Football Focus. Quinton Jefferson added eight pressures from the interior.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Fourth-down defense. Almost all the good the Raiders did defensively was wiped out by the failures on fourth down. The Chargers converted a fourth-and-2 on a TD drive in the second quarter and were stopped on a fourth-and-1 run in the third. But in the fourth quarter and overtime, Herbert converted fourth downs of 6, 21, 10, 10 and 9 yards to go with completions and another on a penalty.
The six conversions were the most in a game since at least 1991 and Herbert was 6 for 6 for 106 yards on fourth down for the most yards thrown on fourth down in a game since at least 1991. The Raiders have allowed 17 of 23 fourth downs to be converted on the season for a league-worst 72.4%.
RB Josh Jacobs ended a mostly disappointing third season in the NFL with the most productive game of his career. He had 26 carries for a career-best 132 yards, including seven carries for 69 yards in overtime to help set up the win. Jacobs gained a career-high 130 of his yards rushing after contact, according to NFL NextGen stats.
TE Darren Waller. The Raiders were hoping for a big boost with Waller’s return but he had little impact. He had two catches for 22 yards on nine targets and also had a drop as he and Carr seemed out of rhythm most of the game.
DT Darius Philon, who made a big contribution to the run defense in recent weeks, went down with what Bisaccia described as a “significant” knee injury and will miss the rest of the season.
Minus-65. The Raiders finished with the fourth-worst point differential for a playoff team of all-time, getting outscored by 65 points. Before this season, seven teams made the playoffs despite getting outscored by at least 50 points and six of them won their first playoff game.
The Raiders visit the Bengals on Saturday in a matchup of two of the four teams with the longest playoff droughts. The Bengals last won a playoff game Jan. 6, 1991, with their eight-game skid starting the following week with a loss to the Raiders. The Raiders last won on Jan. 19, 2003, in the AFC title game against Tennessee.
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