All year, the NFL has been hyping its newly extended regular season. After extending the season from 17 to 18 weeks in the off-season, the league promised the extra week would cause more drama and more excitement for the final week of the regular season than ever before.
It kept its promise.
Three games, with playoff and divisional championship implications on the line, went into overtime, as the drama did not end until Las Vegas Raiders’ kicker Daniel Carlson drilled a 47-yard field goal on the last play of the season to beat the Los Angeles Chargers, 35-32, as time expired in overtime.
The win clinched a playoff berth for the Raiders, while also sending the Pittsburgh Steelers to the playoffs, who earlier beat their rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, in overtime and got some help from the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In the NFC, San Francisco rallied for 17 points down to defeat the Los Angeles Rams, 27-24, in overtime to clinch a spot in the playoffs, as well.
During all of this, no college played as major of a role, on deciding who was going to the playoffs and who was not, then Clemson University.
Clemson had four former players who had a major impact on the final day of the regular season.
It all started with former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The No. 1 overall draft pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, led his Jaguars to a stunning 26-11 victory over the Colts.
All the Colts needed to do was beat the Jaguars, who had the worst record in the NFL, and they were in the playoffs. But Lawrence led the Jags on a 12-play, 75-yard drive, that took 7:12 off the clock, to open the game, which he capped with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Laquon Treadwell.
The touchdown drive set the stage for the game and for what kind of day it was going to be in the NFL. Lawrence finished the afternoon 23-of-32 for 223 yards and two touchdowns, including a third-quarter scoring pass to Marvin Jones, Jr., that put the game out of reach.
“I really wanted to finish the year off with confidence,” Lawrence said to reporters after the game.
With the Colts going down, it opened the door for the winner of the Steelers-Ravens game to possibly make the playoffs. While the Ravens needed a win and a lot more help, the Steelers now just needed a win and hope the Raiders and Chargers game did not end in a tie, and they were in the playoffs.
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Former Clemson receiver Ray Ray McCloud did all he could to extend the Steelers’ season and Ben Roethlisberger’s Hall of Fame career, for at least one more game.
McCloud had perhaps the best game of any former Tiger in the regular season-finales. He had 132 all-purpose yards for the Steelers. He caught four passes for 37 yards, had three kick returns for 66 yards and two punt returns for 29 yards in the Steelers’ 16-13 victory.
McCloud made big plays all day long for the Steelers, especially in the fourth quarter and in overtime. He had a 23-yard punt return midway through the fourth quarter that set Pittsburgh up at midfield for its lone touchdown drive.
On the scoring drive, which gave the Steelers a 13-10 lead at the time, McCloud made a leaping 20-yard grab over the middle on a third-and-eight play to extend the drive. While catching the pass, he absorbed a big hit from a Ravens’ defender and still hung on to the football.
That led to Roethlisberger finding Chas Claypool for a 6-yard touchdown pass with 2:54 to play in regulation.
After the Ravens forced overtime, again it was McCloud who came up big for the Steelers. The former Clemson star extend the game-winning drive when he made a difficult catch on fourth-and-eight from the Ravens’ 41.
McCloud caught Roethlisberger’s pass at his knees and then fell backwards to the 31 for a 10-yard gain to keep the drive going. After a 15-yard Najee Harris run to the Ravens’ 16, Chris Boswell made a 36-yard field goal to cap the 15-play, 65-yard drive, to keep the Steelers’ playoff hopes alive.
The Steelers just needed the Raiders or the Chargers to win the game and they were in the playoffs. But it was not that easy.
Again, it was former Clemson stars who shinned on the big stage. Raiders’ wide receiver Hunter Renfrow caught two touchdown passes for the Silver and Black and also had three punt returns for 32 yards.
But the Chargers’ Mike Williams outshined everyone, catching nine passes for 119 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown pass from Justin Herbert on the last play of regulation to send the game into overtime.
Knowing a win or a tie would get his team into the playoffs, Williams did all he could for the Chargers. After the Raiders went up 32-29 in overtime, the former Tiger caught a fourth-and-10 pass over the middle and then raced the remaining 47 yards to put the Chargers in position to either tie or win the game.
They ultimately got a 41-yard field goal from Dustin Hopkins to tie the game, again, with 4:30 to play in overtime, but the Raiders eventually eliminated the Chargers from the playoff picture thanks to Carlson’s 47-yard kick as time expired in the extra quarter.
What a game and what a great final week of the regular season for the NFL. Arguably, its best ever.