Coming into Sunday, it was clear that the Chargers needed to take care of business in a "win and you're in" scenario. It was the Raiders that came in with momentum and kept it throughout the game. That is part of the reason why they won 35-32 in overtime.
It was a disappointing ending, but mistakes cost the Chargers a trip to the postseason.
On the second drive of the game by the Raiders, they are forced to punt by the Chargers defense. Andre Roberts had room to return but former Chargers receiver Tyron Johnson was able to cause him to fumble, and the Silver and Black recovered it.
Six plays later, Hunter Renfrow put cornerback Michael Davis on skates with a cut inside than smoothly shifting towards the outside, and when catching the ball, he walked into the end zone for the easy six.
A couple of drives later, the Raiders offense faced third-and 23 when Jalen Richard took a handoff and was able to make something out of nothing to pick up 24-yards on the run. Then on second-and-ten on the Chargers 42, quarterback Derek Carr faced pressure, and he launched into the end zone. The referees threw a flag on a pass interference from Chris Harris Jr. on receiver Zay Jones in the end zone, but the ball was not catchable. It put the ball on the one.
There was a moment that NBC showed safety Derwin James having a heated conversation with Harris.
"I just feel like it wasn't catchable ball and receiver kind of flopped with it, but I mean, that's what you teach your receivers, the ball in the air and the guys there, but it was just part of feel like it wasn't a catchable ball in the first place," James explained. "That's what made me kind of hot on the sideline about it especially being third down before the half we're up four points. Offense is about to get the ball, and then we get the ball coming back out. So, I'm just thinking about all that."
Chargers came out of halftime down 17-14 and tried to get some points by having Dustin Hopkins try a 51-yard field goal, but he missed wide left.
On their next offensive drive, the offense faced a third-and-one on their own 18-yard line when they handed it off to Austin Ekeler (who had a big first half for them), and former charger Darius Philon tackled him for no gain. Brandon Staley kept the offense out there and went for it on fourth-and-one when Philon again stopped him for no gain. Raiders ball on the Chargers 18-yard line.
"I understand the criticism," Staley explained. "We felt like we could get the run, we felt like the personnel grouping that they had out there, they want to go on defense, we felt like we had a plenty good enough play call for that. They took away the advantage look, and it just didn't go down for us tonight."
Luckily for them, the defense was able to hold the Raiders to only a field goal.
On the next Raiders offensive drive, facing third-and-six on their 21-yard line, Carr found a wide-open Bryan Edwards, who had put the move on Davis, and moved the chains for a 30-yard completion. Raiders would face third-and-goal a couple of plays later, and edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu was called for a defensive holding to give the Raiders a first down. Josh Jacobs ran it in from one yard out for the score.
"I feel like we weren't locked in those extra key moments and those third downs," James said. "I feel like we got a lot of penalties in a lot of key situations. So, I think like three of those penalties were on third down, so we can't have that, especially in this league."
Next Chargers possession, Justin Herbert went deep for receiver Mike Williams, but former Charger Casey Hayward comes up with the interception. It turned into a Daniel Carlson 52-yard field goal to give the Raiders a 29-14 lead.
That is when Herbert went nuts.
He hit Williams for 18 yards, then Jalen Guyton for 14 moving the ball up the field. He faced a fourth-down-and-six on the Raiders 18-yard line when Herbert hit Williams for a reception they called short, but after a review, referees overturned it and said he got the first down.
Three plays later, Herbert faced a fourth-and-21 with the season on the line, he rifled a 23-yard pass into rookie receiver Josh Palmer for the touchdown. They converted for two points and were only down by seven points.
The defense held up their end of the bargain, holding the Raiders to a punt. Chargers took over on their 17-yard line.
They quickly faced a fourth down, Herbert found receiver Keenan Allen for a clutch catch and run of 11-yards. Three plays later, fourth again when Herbert goes to tight end Jared Cook, but the pass was incomplete, a flag was called on former Charger Roderic Teamer for a hold on the tight end.
A couple of plays later, another fourth down on the Vegas 43-yard line when Herbert found Williams for a 14-yard gain and a first down. The Chargers had ten seconds left on the clock when Herbert found a diving Guyton for a 17-yard catch to put them on the 12-yard line with a chance for one more play.
Herbert went through his progressions and found Williams in the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown to tie things up after a Hopkins extra point. Herbert brought his team back down a 15-point deficit.
"I thought we executed well on fourth down, and especially those two drives, but it wasn't enough," Herbert said. "That's the unfortunate part. We're too far behind, and offensively, we didn't get enough going first half."
The game went into overtime. The Raiders and Chargers exchanged field goals to tie things up. Keep in mind that if the game ended in a tie, both AFC West teams would be headed to the playoffs, and the Pittsburgh Steelers would be headed home.
The Raiders had the ball and an opportunity to put the game away. They moved the ball up their 44-yard line but faced a crucial third-and-ten when Carr found Jones for an 11-yard first down.
Here is where things went crazy.
There were two minutes left when Jacobs took a handoff for negative one yard. Forty seconds bleed off the clock. Jacobs gets the handoff on second down for seven yards. The clock trickles down to 38 seconds when Staley called a timeout.
"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 we could play where we would deepen the field goal."
He wanted a group that would be better to stop the run. There is talk that the Raiders were going to run the time out. According to Carr, that timeout changed their mindset, so they went for the win instead of running out the clock.
"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 on the very next play," Staley explained. "So, we wanted to make sure that we got our run defense in there. We obviously didn't execute well enough."
The Raiders ran Jacobs on third down, and he picked up ten yards to give them a new set of downs. They took a timeout with two seconds left, and Carlson kicked the Chargers out of the playoffs with a 47-yard field goal to win it and send the Raiders to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
James had a hard time believing what Carr said.
"We can't believe what he's saying in that moment," James said. "We didn't make the plays to win the game. We can't depend on somebody to knee it out to be in the playoffs. We got to make the plays that we got to make."
During the NBC broadcast, Herbert was seen mouthing that "he never wanted a tie more in his life." He was asked about it after the game.
"I'd never been rooting for a tie more in my life, and that's the unfortunate part of being so close," Herbert said. "They beat us, and we didn't execute as well as we could have."
The Chargers will not be heading to the playoffs and will start their offseason early.
"It is real tough," Herbert said. The whole goal is to get to the playoffs and eventually win the Super Bowl. It didn't go our way tonight, and that's the unfortunate part. I'm really proud of the way that everyone's battled this year, and we never gave up. It's an honor to be a part of this team and to be a part of that locker room because everyone cares a lot."
As the door shuts on the 2021 Chargers season, they must now reflect on what went wrong and wonder "what if." Changes must be made. There is no reason why this team with a talented quarterback like Herbert is heading home. It is inexcusable.
"That's why I hate that we aren't in the tournament because he's one of the best players in the NFL," Staley said. "I hate that he's not in the tournament competing against the best players in the NFL, and I hate it for him."