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A play away: Close-game magic fizzles as Raiders fall to third loss in four games

Wade Vandervort

Washington Football Team quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) celebrates after running the ball during the second half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021.

The ball slipped through Tre’von Moehrig’s hands and fell to the ground, and so too may have the Raiders’ postseason goals.

Las Vegas’ rookie free safety had a chance to all but end Sunday afternoon’s game at Allegiant Stadium against the Washington Football Team with less than a minute remaining on the clock. Instead, three plays and 17 seconds of game time later, Washington kicker Brian Johnson converted on a field goal attempt to hand Las Vegas a demoralizing loss.

Washington Football Team 17, Raiders 15.

“We wanted to get a stop, but things happen,” rookie cornerback Nate Hobbs said. “It’s football. Tre, we forced pressure, it was great coverage. I just think honestly, next time, he’ll come up with that one. It was a mistake and mistakes happen.”

The Raiders had largely avoided the critical mistakes at the end of close games earlier in the season. They came into Week 13 against Washington 3-0 in games decided by less than seven points, including an overtime win last week at Dallas and a pair of overtime victories against Baltimore and Miami in September at home.

Much like that trio of contests, Las Vegas and Washington had practically battled to a stalemate in terms of efficiency over 60 minutes. But the Raiders were the ones who suffered from near-misses this time around to continue a stretch of devastating losses. 

Las Vegas has now lost three of four since its bye week to fall to 6-6 overall on the season.

“The highs have been pretty good and the lows have been really low,” interim coach Rich Bisaccia said. “Humanistically, the lows have been really low, and then professionally on the grass, the lows have been really low.”

And now the Raiders’ postseason probabilities have been left accordingly low. They technically sat only one game outside of the playoffs after the loss but the two teams one game ahead of them — the Los Angeles Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals — hold head-to-head tiebreakers.

Worst of all for the Raiders, the toughest part of their schedule comes now. After a slate that so far rated in the NFL’s bottom 10 by consensus, their final six games make for a top-10 ranking in difficultly by any measure.

They aren’t currently a favorite in a single remaining game, with a pick’em against Denver in their next home game on Dec. 26 the closest. That will come after back-to-back road trips to Kansas City and Cleveland in a span of six days. 

“We’ve got to keep our head down, come to work, listen to what your coach tells you to do and do that to the best of your ability,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “Our coaches are doing a great job with everything they’ve had to do and deal with, and roles changing and everything like that. They’ve done an excellent job of pushing us and keeping the details and we as a whole need to listen to what they’re saying and do it on game day.”.
Bisaccia accepted blame, however, and much of the postgame scorn from fans fell on the coaching staff — particularly offensive coordinator Greg Olson. After upsetting the Cowboys last week with an aggressive approach, the Raiders appeared to go ultra-conservative against Washington.

Carr finished 1.5 yards below his season-long average for yards per pass attempt, managing just 6.6 with 249 yards on 28-for-38 passing. Most of the play designs, especially early in the game, seemed to be around the line of scrimmage instead of farther downfield.

A backsliding performance from the offensive line was also partly to blame, as Carr rarely had much time. Running back Josh Jacobs singled out the line afterwards as one unit he talked to and tried to motivate after he felt the team came out, “stiff and dull.”

Jacobs said he saw a noticeable difference in the line in the second half, during which he had a few big runs including the Raiders’ only touchdown on a 1-yard plunge, but it might have been too late. In games this close, there’s little room to get off to a slow start.

“That’s the thing that frustrates me,” said Jacobs, who finished with 90 combined rushing and receiving yards on 22 touches. “Against teams we know we can be a little better in or play a little better in, we play down. That’s something I really honestly have never been a part of that so I don’t really know the answer to it.”

The defense similarly took a while to get going. Although the unit eventually put together one of its best games of the year, it started with one of its worst five-minute stretches.

Washington marched right down the field with quarterback Taylor Heinicke throwing his first of two touchdown passes on a 7-yard strike to wide-open tight end Logan Thomas in the back of the end zone. Moehrig appeared to miss Thomas entering his coverage zone.

“If we would have come out more detailed and focused in the first drive, we probably would have won the game,” Hobbs said.

The Raiders’ defense solidified and didn’t allow any more points until the fourth quarter, but the offense could never complement the explosive effort led by edge rusher Maxx Crosby. Las Vegas’ only points before halftime came on a 52-yard field goal from Daniel Carlson, who also made his two other attempts in the second half after the offense stalled just inside the red zone.

“Field goals are not going to win you games,” Carr said. “You’ve got to get touchdowns — very frustrating especially with how close some of those plays were.”

Carlson’s final field goal, a 37-yarder, came less than two minutes before Johnson’s game-winner and gave the Raiders their first lead at 15-14. Two of the plays right before included Josh Jacobs just missing breaking a long run potentially for a touchdown and a Carr pass slipping off the fingertips of Zay Jones in the end zone.

The defense had gotten the offense the ball back with its first interception since Week 6 when Crosby hit Heinicke’s arm and forced a floater of a pass that Casey Hayward deflected, and Hobbs picked off.  Hobbs took no solace in his first NFL interception, however, and was more upset about dropping one earlier in the game that he said could have been a gamechanger.  

“We battled until the end but we’ve got to execute better,” Hobbs said. “That’s the problem. We’ve got to do the execution part, and attention to detail. If we did a couple (things) different on plays, including me, I’ve got to be more detailed-oriented. I feel like the whole team does.”

The Raiders got the ball back with only 31 seconds left in the game, not near enough time for an offense that rarely produced big plays all day. A promising deep shot from Carr to Jones on the first play just narrowly missed — a fitting play at the tail end of the game.

The Raiders were an inch or two away on a number of plays from beating Washington, but one particularly stood out.

“If Tre’von Moehrig hangs on to that,” Bisaccia said, “there’s a chance for the game to be over.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or

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