Their 30-27 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday Night Football felt like the crowning moment for the team’s implosion this season.
With 4:30 remaining in overtime, the Raiders had the ball on the Chargers’ four-yard line. A touchdown would win the game, while a field goal would give the Chargers a chance to respond. Star tight end Darren Waller already had nine catches for 150 yards and a touchdown in the contest, making him the obvious red-zone target.
Inexplicably, Waller’s number was never called. They ran the ball twice for no gain with Josh Jacobs, before trying a play-action pass intended for the fullback. With their season seemingly on the line, they settled for a field goal.
The Chargers then promptly marched down the field for a touchdown, sealing the Raiders’ fate.
For a franchise hellbent on changing the narratives about their late-season collapses, they have fallen into the same old results.
After Week 10, the team sat with a 6-3 record with their eyes set on the postseason. Since then, they have lost four of their last five and are all but eliminated from playoff contention.
Brewing Quarterback Controversy?
Things looked bleak for the Raiders when starting quarterback Derek Carr left Thursday’s game in the first quarter. He pulled up limping with a groin injury on a third-down scramble and did not return for the rest of the game.
In entered Marcus Mariota, the second-overall pick from the 2015 NFL Draft. Heading into the contest, Mariota had not thrown a pass since December 29th of 2019.
The former Heisman Trophy winner put together an impressive performance, throwing for 226 yards and a touchdown. He also added an extra dimension to the Raiders’ offense with his running ability, tallying 88 yards and a score on the ground. He threw an ugly interception late in regulation, but a missed field goal by the Chargers prevented any damage.
Following the game, Raiders’ head coach Jon Gruden said that Carr’s injury was “significant”. Assuming he misses the rest of the season, Mariota will get two more chances to show what he can do.
It’s no secret that Gruden loves dual-threat quarterbacks, and Mariota looked like a competent NFL starter. With that being said, the element of surprise undoubtedly played a part in the performance as the Chargers had game-planned for Carr all week.
Alas, there is no controversy to me at this point in time. Carr was enjoying one of the best seasons of his NFL career before a recent slump. Almost every the game the Raiders won this year came on his shoulders, and to suggest otherwise is classic recency bias.
Mariota echoed similar sentiments after the game saying, “This is Derek’s team, [he] is a great leader and somebody that [we] can look to.”
At the very least, if Mariota plays well to close out the season, the Raiders will have two starting-caliber quarterbacks on the roster. That type of depth is a nice safety blanket to have heading into next year.
New Coordinator, Same Results
In Rod Marinelli’s first game as interim defensive coordinator, the Raiders defense looked remarkably similar to what we’ve seen all season.
They gave up at least 30 points for the ninth time this year, surrendered at least 400 yards of offense for the eighth time this year, and registered one sack or less for the ninth time this year.
They forced two punts the entire game. The Chargers converted 58 percent of their third-down opportunities. Trayvon Mullen took three costly pass-interference penalties in the secondary.
Chargers’ rookie quarterback Justin Herbert played phenomenally, but the Raiders failed to make life difficult for him. His receivers had free real estate all across the field, catching passes at critical moments without defenders within two feet of them.
Star wideout Keenan Allen was barely a factor in the game because of injury, but the secondary still got torched by the likes of Jaylen Guyton and Tyron Johnson.
Gruden even admitted after the game that his secondary completely blew two coverages. “It’s been a problem in past years and it’s hard to admit it again,” he told reporters.
Now, in fairness, the Raiders were missing five defensive starters for the game. Alas, Marinelli preached all week that he would have any group prepared for the task at hand. That simply was not the case.
Similarly, at what point does the blame come off the coordinators? We are in the third year of Gruden’s reunion with the Raiders, and the results are wholly middling. He owns an 18-28 record during that span, and the team has collapsed in the second half of the season in back-to-back years. Above all else, the defense has stunk every season.
If the Raiders have any hopes of competing in 2021, this defense needs a complete overhaul. Whether Gruden can pull that off remains to be seen.