The Las Vegas Raiders entered the Week 13 contest inside MetLife Stadium against the New York Jets, looking to wipe the sorrows away from their letdown performance last week in Atlanta. Las Vegas did keep their season alive, but in doing so, it wasn’t a game the Silver and Black played all that well.
The Raiders entered Week 13 in must-win territory, and despite their underwhelming performance for most of the game on Sunday against the Jets, Las Vegas finished the contest with a game-winning 46-yard touchdown to Henry Ruggs III with 13 seconds remaining to win 31-28.
The Raiders moved to 7-5 on the season, keeping stride in the AFC playoff race. While they do hold their own destiny with games due up against the Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins — two teams ahead of the Raiders in the standings — Las Vegas must elevate their level of productivity in order to dethrone a playoff-caliber team.
Derek Carr threw for 381 yards, three touchdowns and one interception en route to the victory. However, the accuracy in which Carr has completed passes so far this season didn’t show up against the Jets. Carr finished the day, completing passes at a 59% rate — his second-lowest of any game this season.
Carr did find success when targeting Darren Waller as the Jets tried several different defenders to stop the tight end receiving threat but nothing worked to slow him down. Waller hauled in 13 catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns — completing the best game of his NFL career.
“He is special,” Gruden said after the game when asked about Waller’s performance. “And if you look at where he caught passes — he caught them at wide receiver, playing split end, he caught them as a flanker, he taught them in the slot. He caught them everywhere and ran all kinds of routes.”
Waller is in just his second season in a starting role, yet he’s steadily becoming one of the better tight ends in the league.
“A lot of guys can’t even dream of doing what Darren waller can do and I think he solidified himself today as one of the top Pro Bowl tight ends in this business,” said Gruden.
Aside from Waller, the Raiders’ offense really struggled to click on a consistent level. A big factor was the abysmal performance by the Raiders’ offensive line. Carr was under pressure quite frequently, and the majority of it came from the interior alignment with push from Jets’ defensive tackle Quinnen Williams. New York’s former No. 3 overall pick finished the game with four tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack and three quarterback hits.
The Raiders themselves also produced constant pressure from their defense. They sacked Sam Darnold three times and tallied seven quarterback hits. The key enforcer along the defensive line was Clelin Ferrell, who returned to the field with a recharged energy after missing the previous two games after testing positive with COVID-19. Ferrell totaled six tackles, two sacks, three quarterback hits, one pass defended and two forced fumbles.
“We were missing some defensive lineman today and he made some impact plays and that’s what we need from him,” Gruden said when talking about Ferrell after the game. “He’s a hard nose, energized, finishing player and he’s got a lot of football character we’re going to lean on also.
With the final seconds trickling down on the clock, the Raiders’ defense forced a stop and got the ball back with 35 seconds remaining. Carr hit Waller for a 14-yard gain, which set up the hail mary attempt that Carr would connect with his rookie wideout. In the final 13 seconds, Carr bought time with his legs with pressure surrounding him and delivered a 46-yard touchdown to Ruggs in order to take the go-ahead lead with five seconds remaining.
Prior to Ruggs’ game-saving touchdown grab, he had a ball tip off his hands in the first half, which resulted in an interception. And late in the fourth quarter, Ruggs fumbled the ball as he attempted to secure a much-needed first down grab as the Raiders trailed at that moment. Having his number called upon to secure the game-clinching catch will certainly give the rookie a boost of confidence down the home stretch as the Raiders look to fight their way back into the playoffs.
“After Henry Ruggs fumbled the football and was involved in the interception, I thought he should’ve caught that pass,” Gruden said. “A lot of guys would hang their head and go in the tank. For him to win that game for us, it just says a lot about the football character that he has and we have.”
On the Raiders hail mary attempt, the Jets’ defense dialed up a Cover 0 look — calling for an all-out blitz on Carr. As the Jets still sit without a victory, that type of play call suggests it may have been by design so they maintain the No. 1 overall pick. Nobody will actually know the truth but it’s not a very common play call in that situation.
“They lost to New England on Monday Night Football,” Gruden said. “They didn’t blitz. Cam Newton made a throw and I’m sure they got criticized for no pass rush. And then you blitz and get beat over the top. We’re in this business together as coaches. We’re never going to be right when we lose, but I thought the Jets really showed a lot of character.”
Whether the Jets called off the dogs on the final play or not, they’ll never admit to it being true. But nonetheless, the Raiders squeaked out a last-minute victory to still stay in the playoff picture. It’s a week-to-week league in the NFL and this week the Raiders came away with the victory to keep their season alive.
“It’s critical that we can go on the road after a humiliating loss and come from behind in a dramatic way to win,” Gruden said. “It’s a huge learning experience and it’s fun to learn some positive things once in awhile with everything that’s going on.
The Raiders will now move ahead and host the Colts inside Allegiant Stadium in Week 14 with playoff aspirations at the forefront of things.