LAS VEGAS — Chargers tight end Jared Cook boldly taunted the raucous Las Vegas Raiders’ crowd before his offense started the biggest drive of the regular season.

It was a questionable decision, but the Chargers got to that point by being aggressive, and at times, foolish. The Chargers were down a touchdown and needed more magic from star quarterback Justin Herbert to keep their season alive.

Fittingly, the Chargers converted three fourth downs before the Herbert magic occurred. Herbert connected with wide receiver Mike Williams to tie the game as time expired in regulation to send the win-and-in matchup to overtime.

The far-fetched scenario of both AFC West rivals advancing to the playoffs with a tie presented itself after four quarters of madness Sunday night at Allegiant Stadium. But, of course, there was too much history, too much familiarity and too much competition that had just transpired to settle for a tie in the final game of the NFL’s 2021 regular season.

The Raiders defeated the Chargers, 35-32, after a game-winning 47–yard field goal from Daniel Carlson as time expired in overtime to end the Chargers’ season. The Raiders will now face the Cincinnati Bengals in a wild-card matchup next week, while the Chargers enter the offseason asking themselves once again what went wrong?

“I’m disappointed because I feel like we’re one of the best teams in the NFL,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “I feel like this team is good enough to not only be in the tournament, but to win it. I know who’s in the tournament and I felt like we have a good enough team to be in it.”

The division rivals traded blows for 68 minutes with the intention of crowning one winner, but the Raiders admitted that they strongly considered settling for a tie after the two-minute warning of overtime.

Perhaps a questionable timeout called by Staley before a third-and-4 with 38 seconds remaining altered the Raiders’ thinking and opted for the game-winning kick. Staley said the decision wasn’t because he wanted to save time to go for the win if they got the third-down stop.

Jacobs broke free on the left side for a 10-yard run to set up Carlson’s game-winning kick.

“We needed to get in the right grouping,” Staley said. “We felt like they were going to run the ball. So we wanted to get our best 11 personnel run defense and make that substitution, so that if we get a play, we deepened the field goal. … My mindset was to make the field goal as long as possible.

“I don’t think it changed their mindset because they were going to run the ball on the play before, and then they ran the ball the very next play. So we wanted to make sure that we got our run defense in there. We obviously didn’t execute well enough, but we wanted to get our premium on that run defense in there and that’s what we did.”

The Raiders took a 32-29 lead in overtime after a 40-yard field-goal from Carlson. The Chargers then tied it again at 32-32 after a 41-yard field goal from Dustin Hopkins with 4:30 left in overtime.

“I’d never been rooting for a tie more in my life,” Herbert said. “That’s the unfortunate part of being so close. They beat us and we didn’t execute as well as we could have.”

The Chargers (9-8) and Raiders (10-7) made the Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1) wait, but they advanced to the playoffs as the seventh seed in the AFC with the Chargers’ loss.

Staley might have gotten risky too early after a failed fourth-down decision from his own territory midway through the third quarter. But the Chargers gave themselves new life by converting several fourth downs to erase a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter. The Chargers finished 6 of 7 on fourth-down conversions.

The lone failed fourth-down decision will likely receive plenty of criticism and Staley will take the blame, but that only deserves part of the blame for why the Chargers’ postseason hopes ended after the Raiders punched their ticket into the playoffs.

“Was looking to get our offense started, our engine started,” Staley said about why he decided to go for it on that fourth down. “They made a good play. I understand the criticism. … It just didn’t go down for us.”

Staley also calls the shots on defense as the play caller and he was hired to turn around a unit that had struggled the past two seasons under Gus Bradley, the Raiders’ defensive coordinator.

Bradley and his handful of former Chargers defensive players stifled Herbert for most of the first three quarters before Herbert picked up his play in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Herbert finished 34 of 64 for 383 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr completed 20 of 36 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns.

“That’s why I hate that we’re not in the tournament because he’s one of the best players in the NFL,” Staley said about Herbert.

Staley had his entire starting defense on the field, but health didn’t change the Chargers’ season-long struggles, especially on third down. The Chargers’ defense had racked up five holds and two pass interference penalties midway though the final quarter.

The Raiders recorded 346 yards with 174 coming on the ground. Jacobs had 26 carries for 132 yards and one touchdown.

The Chargers trimmed the deficit to 29-22 after Herbert threw a 23-yard touchdown to rookie wide receiver Josh Palmer and connected with running back Austin Ekeler for the 2-point conversion with 4:28 left in regulation.

The Raiders extended their lead to 26-14 after wide receiver Hunter Renfrow scored his second touchdown of the game with 14:14 left in the fourth quarter. The drive was kept alive after Chargers edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu was called for holding against tight end Darren Waller.

Staley made the questionable decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Chargers’ 18-yard line with a three-point deficit and 8:57 remaining in the third quarter. Ekeler was stopped short on a run up the middle to record the turnover on downs. The Chargers’ defense, however, only allowed a 31-yard field goal from Carlson to extend the Raiders’ lead to 20-14 with 8:03 in the third quarter.

Staley’s first risky decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Raiders’ 19-yard line gave the Chargers’ their first momentum of the game. Herbert connected with Jalen Guyton for a 5-yard completion to keep the drive alive. Ekeler capped it with a 14-yard rushing touchdown to trim the Raiders’ lead to 10-7 with 12:42 in the second quarter.

Chargers wide receiver Andre Roberts had a costly fumble on a punt return that led to a Carr 12-yard touchdown pass to Renfrow to give the Raiders a 10-0 advantage with 3:14 in the first quarter. Former Charges wide receiver Tyron Johnson recorded the forced fumble against Roberts. Johnson was waived by the Chargers after training camp.

The Raiders quickly moved up field after tight end Foster Moreau broke free on the left side for a 44-yard catch on third-and-10 that placed the ball on the Chargers’ 7-yard line. But the Chargers’ defense held in the red zone and forced the Raiders to settle for a 24-yard field goal from Carlson to take a 3-0 lead with 10:50 in the first quarter.

Herbert was sensational for most of his second NFL season, but he won’t get the opportunity to show what he’s capable of in the playoffs.

Now the Chargers have plenty of time to figure out why their star quarterback won’t be showcased in the postseason.

“I hate that he’s not in the tournament competing against the best players in the NFL,” Staley said. “I hate it for him. Hate it for Derwin (James), Keenan (Allen), Corey Linsley. A lot of these guys who have given us so much.”

(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)



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