The Raiders’ unforgettable 2021 season came to a close on Saturday after a razor-close 26-19 playoff loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati. The contest resembled many of Las Vegas’ last-second, regular-season wins, but this time, its magic ran out.
Ultimately, the game was decided in the game’s final moments when quarterback Derek Carr threw an interception at the goal line on a 4th-down, red-zone play. The turnover ended a Raiders comeback, which saw them rebound from a 26-16 deficit with just 6:46 to go.
Early miscues may have done the Raiders in, however. But after a season full of adversity and a hard-fought playoff loss to a quality Bengals team, the season should be considered a success. Still, some Las Vegas players fared better than others in this defeat. Here are the Raiders winners and losers from a very entertaining postseason game.
Wide receiver Zay Jones had Carr’s only touchdown toss of the game, a 14-yard connection that pulled the Raiders to within seven points of the Bengals just before halftime.
The score came after an 80-yard drive, helping to erase an egregious mistake by the officials on the Bengals’ touchdown just minutes earlier. They blew an inadvertent whistle on a 3rd-and-goal play that resulted in a touchdown throw by Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow. By rule, 3rd down should have been replayed.
Still, if the officials had replayed the snap, the Bengals may have scored anyway. The Raiders know how to get past adversity after playing through it all season, however. Carr and Jones forgot about it quickly and got Las Vegas on the board.
Tight end Darren Waller had a nice cap to his season in this loss, making a positive impact after missing weeks due to injury and illness. He had seven catches for 76 yards including this effort on a dime from Carr when the Raiders really needed a play.
Waller’s return to prominence almost helped the Raiders pull this one out, but in the end, the Bengals were too much. With Waller a threat, the passing offense had a good day overall, with WR Hunter Renfrow adding eight grabs for 58 yards, though Renfrow had a costly forced drop on a third-quarter, 3rd-down play.
Running back Josh Jacobs looked good out there, running for 84 yards on just 13 carries.
The Raiders got away from the run game a bit, however, and it’s understandable. The Bengals scored on every one of their drives in the first half and punted just two times overall. That made it hard for Las Vegas to remain within two scores of Cincinnati, increasing the Raiders’ urgency on offense.
Defensive end Maxx Crosby made Burrow think about the Raiders pass rush on nearly every snap, and he helped Las Vegas hold the Bengals’ potent passing attack to just 225 yards.
Crosby had one QB sack and two QB hits, and his sack forced the Bengals’ first punt of the game. Las Vegas was on the ropes, down 23-13, and the sack gave the team new life. Unfortunately, mistakes from the Raiders offense on the ensuing drive ruined a chance at a touchdown.
Alex Leatherwood, Andre James, John Simpson
The Raiders offense marched downfield in the third quarter after Crosby’s sack forced a Bengals punt, but they had to endure holding penalties from guard Alex Leatherwood and center Andre James on the way to the red zone.
And when Las Vegas got to within the Bengals’ 5-yard line, a holding penalty from G John Simpson pushed them back on the 19. The golden opportunity for a touchdown ended in one of Carlson’s four field goals, making the score 23-16.
It’s not Foster Moreau’s fault that he had to block DE Trey Hendrickson by himself in pass protection, but he did, and it didn’t end well for the Raiders. The play resulted in a fumble from Carr, which was scooped up by Cincinnati.
The first quarter play led to a field goal, much to the credit of the Raiders defense. But another mistake just minutes later helped put the Bengals in scoring position yet again.
Running back Peyton Barber made the type of playoff miscue that will burn in the memory of many Raiders fans. The Raiders defense held the Bengals to a field goal after Hendrickson’s strip-sack, but Barber caught the ensuing kickoff and went out of bounds at the 2-yard line.
The Raiders eventually had to punt out of their own end zone, and the short field position resulted in another Bengals field goal. Though the defense did well to limit the damage, without their two first-half, 3-point mistakes, the Raiders may have only needed a field goal to win the game late.
Carr has been waiting since 2016 to get a crack at a playoff game, and his squad came up short. While he played admirably, that’s a loss for the Raiders signal-caller.
He totaled 310 yards through the air on 29-54 passing, with one touchdown and his one interception that sealed the loss. He also had that fumble — it was on a fierce rush, but Carr has to find a way to somehow hang onto that football in that situation.
Still, with how poorly the Raiders offensive line has been all season, especially in pass protection, it’s a testament to Carr’s resolve (along with Crosby and an improved defense), that the Raiders made it as far as they did in 2021. It will be up to management — whomever that ends up being — to decide whether Carr’s effort was enough to earn a new contract, which is set to expire after next season.
The Raiders faced plenty of adversity in this game, just as they have all year long. In the end, they came up just short. But this was a hard-fought playoff game against a quality Bengals team, and the Raiders proved that their magical season was no fluke. And they showed their (relatively) new home city of Las Vegas that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to win.
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