Just like 2019, Jon Gruden’s Raiders won more games than the previous year. Similarly to 2019, Gruden’s Raiders imploded and fell back to mediocrity after a 6-3 start. Both seasons ended in disappointment, but for the first time since 2016, the Raiders did not have a losing record and seemingly have more building blocks than questions.
In order to get to 8-8 on the season, the Las Vegas Raiders had to travel to Denver to play the Broncos. The final score was 32-31 in the favor of the Raiders, but the game was a metaphor for the team’s season and fit their year-long path.
The first quarter started slow and the Raiders seemed to be behind the eight ball, whereas the Broncos were full of fire and were trying to snatch a moral victory to end the season. Las Vegas stuttered early on, but they were able to get a foothold and go blow-for-blow with the Broncos early on.
As the second quarter opened, the Raiders began a tear. Quarterback Derek Carr continued to lead his team down the field and tied the game. The offense came alive and the defense began to make plays. What began as a game with the Broncos controlling the tempo, turned into a solid performance by the Raiders. It was eerily similar to how the Raiders made several statement victories in the second quarter of this season.
Fourteen unanswered points were scored by the Raiders, including a 28-yard touchdown to star tight end Darren Waller and a 26-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Brandon Edwards. Those two touchdown passes were the only two on the day for Carr, who went 24-38 with 371 yards, with two touchdowns, and two interceptions. He was also sacked three times.
Just like the season unfolded, the third quarter of this game began the implosion. Offensively, the Raiders could not maintain the momentum they had cultivated in the second quarter. Not only were they simply off and not in rhythm, but at one point towards the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth, they committed three turnovers in five plays.
The first of these turnovers was a slightly overthrown ball by Carr that bounced off of Waller’s hands and was intercepted. Two plays into the following drive, rookie wide receiver Henry Ruggs took an end-around and was clobbered, fumbling the ball. Shortly after that, Carr threw his second interception when he stared down his receiver. On the day, the Raiders committed four turnovers.
Denver opened the fourth quarter by scoring a touchdown and converting a 2-point conversion. It was the beginning of a raucous fourth quarter which saw Josh Jacobs score on a 28-yard run, then the Broncos’ rookie star receiver Jerry Jeudy scored on a 92-yard reception.
The coup de gras was Carr leading his team down the field after the Raider defense forced a punt. Jacobs scored on a 1-yard rush with 27 seconds left and then Waller caught a pass in a tight window to take the lead on the 2-point conversion.
Unlike week 16 against the Dolphins, the Raider defense was able to recover after an opening down mistake. Second-year defensive end Maxx Crosby, who recorded a sack in the game ending the season with a team leading seven sacks, blocked a long field goal attempt to seal the victory.
When it was all said and done, the game had a thrilling end even though it was ultimately unfulfilling, which is a very appropriate way to describe the end to the team’s season. Injuries and COVID-19 played a large role in the team’s demise, along with sloppy play and self-inflicted wounds. Right now, the team is in a search for a new defensive coordinator and will hopefully address all of their failures as they watch the playoffs that they failed to earn a spot in, from the couch.