In one week, the eulogy for the inaugural season in Las Vegas for the Raider franchise will be written. The only final question to answer is whether or not the league is talking about a team who achieved one more win than 2019 and at least did not finish as losers, or a team who replicated 2019 and wasted another season.
When that eulogy is written and the Raiders’ players and coaches look back at what went wrong, they will find their biggest enemy did not live in a faraway city, or wear another team’s jersey. Instead, it’s staring right back at them in the mirror.
Owner Mark Davis commented on the opening night of Allegiant Stadium that he wanted to nickname it the “Death Star” because it is where other team’s dreams come to die. The only team who has had dreams die there this season is Las Vegas. A record of 2-6 at home is a microcosm of the failures this team has experienced through its own doing, and that includes the last-second loss to the Miami Dolphins in week 16 with a final score of 26-25.
Through the first half, the Raiders led and the defense was able to corral rookie starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. After the first half they only allowed six total points. By the time the game ended, the defense achieved three sacks and two passes defensed.
What ruined the Raiders and relegated this season to a last grasp to simply achieve not being losers again, was a missed point after touchdown, a failure to score a touchdown when down two points, and one unfortunate defensive play. All of that happened with three minutes left on the game clock.
Failure No. 1 in this game that did the team in for the matchup and the season finally statistically ending all playoff hope, was a missed point after touchdown by kicker Daniel Carlson. He had only missed one PAT all season before this game and he has only missed two field goals in the 2020 season.
Following this failed PAT, the Raider defense was on its heels with a fiery Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. He hit running back Myles Gaskin for a 59-yard touchdown reception which answered the Raider’s long passing touchdown to receiver Nelson Agholor the drive before. Because of the missed PAT, it now set the Raiders trailing by one point at 23-22 rather than creating a tie. This misstep is what makes the play calling from Jon Gruden in the upcoming drive immensely questionable.
On their second play from scrimmage and 2:28 left in the game, Raider quarterback Derek Carr targeted Agholor deep over the middle. The pass fell incomplete but there was a defensive pass interference on the play which moved the ball from Las Vegas’ 29 to the Dolphin 22. This massive change of field position along with the time on the clock now set the Raiders up to take their time and work their way to the end zone.
In the next four plays, the Raiders achieved one first down and were able to eat up the two-minute warning along with both of Miami’s last two timeouts. On second down, the Raiders ran the ball again picking up a yard but they used a timeout with 1:05 left on the clock. On third down, rather than taking a shot to the end zone or even running another play to do anything positive, the Raiders took a knee, which was followed up by another timeout with 23 seconds left on the clock.
Carlson hit the short field goal for the lead putting the Raiders up by only two points.
On the first play from scrimmage for the Dolphins, the Raiders got pressure on Fitzpatrick and at the last second, he looked to the left to see an open receiver due to a blown assignment by rookie cornerback Damon Arnette and they picked up 34 yards. This was compounded by a 15-yard penalty due to a personal foul by Arden Key on the pass rush.
It took one play and two mistakes and the Raiders failed — again. Miami then kicked a game-winning field goal for the one-point victory.
With the specter of another losing season looming around the corner, the Raiders travel to Denver to play longtime AFC West rivals, the Broncos. Earlier in the season, the Raiders blew out the Broncos at home 37-12. In this COVID-19- riddled season, where the Raiders are playing a sixth string corner at safety and their general manager is coaching the defensive backs, nothing is a given.