Right when it seemed the Las Vegas Raiders’ season was going to end on another downer, they pulled out one last improbable victory.
Derek Carr hit tight end Darren Waller with a two-point conversion following Josh Jacobs’ one-yard touchdown run with 24 seconds left and the Raiders escaped Empower Field at Mile High in Denver with a 32-31 victory over the Denver Broncos.
“We changed our mind three times on the two-point conversion,” Raiders Coach Jon Gruden said after his first victory in Denver in eight games. "I'm going to have a Coors Light (to celebrate) before I leave. ... Fortunately, they used their timeout (before the two-point try).”
Added Jacobs: “We would have been scrambling if they hadn’t.”
The Broncos threatened to stun the Raiders as the Miami Dolphins did with a field goal in the closing seconds last week, but defensive end Maxx Crosby blocked Brandon McManus’ 63-yard field goal attempt in thin Mile High air in the final 10 seconds and the Silver and Black held on.
“I’m glad we got to finish it off the right way,” said Crosby, who also had four tackles, two for losses, and contributed to two sacks.
The Raiders (8-8), who once were 6-3 and in solid playoff position before losing five of their previous six games, ended a three-game losing streak and finished one game better than their 7-9 record last season.
Their only other victory in those last seven games was by 31-28 over the then-winless New York Jets on a miracle 46-yard touchdown pass from Carr to rookie Henry Ruggs with five seconds remaining.
Denver quarterback Drew Lock, who might have saved his job with a strong game, hit rookie wide receiver Jerry Jeudy on a 92-yard pass play with 6:29 left in the game to give the 31-24 lead.
But the Raiders had one last gasp in this up-and-down season.
Las Vegas reached midfield on their next possession but were forced to punt and used all their timeouts to save time on the clock. Thanks to a holding penalty on tight end Noah Fant, the Broncos had to punt the ball back.
With 1:47 left in the game, Carr took the Raiders 77 yards to the game-winning touchdown, starting with a 37-yard pass to Zay Jones before hitting Darren Waller with throws of 10 and 21 yards.
Carr threw two incomplete passes from the Denver nine-yard-line before he hit running back Theo Riddick for eight yards to the one, from where Jacobs scored on fourth down one play later.
Then Carr and Waller hooked up again for the game-winner.
“Obviously very satisfying; that was the plan, that was the only plan,” Gruden said of the final drive and the two-point conversion. “It’s a credit to our whole team though.
“We had some really great moments today, we had some ugly moments, but like we always seem to do this year, we hang in there, our defense gets us a stop, and our quarterback is as good as anybody I’ve been around in those situations. He loves the two-minute drill.
“ … I’m emotionally very sad to see the season end, but I’m excited about the future.”
Then Carr and Waller hooked up again on the two-point conversion for the game-winner.
The Raiders took a 17-10 lead on Carr’s 26-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Bryan Edwards with 26 seconds left in the first half, but the Broncos got a 37-yard field goal by McManus in the third quarter and took the lead on Melvin Gordon’s 10-yard scoring run on the first play of the final quarter.
The Raiders regained the lead on Jacobs' 28-yard touchdown run up the middle with 7:24 left in the game in another of those wild fourth quarters the Silver and Black were involved in this season.
But both teams still had plenty left in the tank.
Jacobs led the Raiders with 89 yards and two touchdowns, finishing the season with 1,065 yards after gaining 1,150 as a rookie last season.
Carr completed 24-of-38 passes for 371 yards and two touchdowns, overcoming two interceptions, while Waller made up for a lost fumble with nine catches for 117 yards and a 28-yard scoring reception in the second quarter.
It capped one of Carr’s best seasons, as he finished with a career-high 4,103 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and only nine interceptions.
Carr recalled that the Broncos broke up a similar two-point conversion pass intended for Waller to pull out a 16-15 victory over the Raiders last season.
“Two-point play, same spot in the end zone, same everything,” Carr said. “Defensive linemen jumping in the air, but this time they didn’t touch it. … Funny about that, is right before that drive, I went to Coach and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to win this game. So get your two-point play ready.’
“It may have looked more panicked than it was, because we knew what play we were running and we knew what we were about to do. Then they called timeout and gave us time to really get set. It was nice, it was nice, same area. You couldn’t draw it up better.”
Waller, who last week broke tight end Todd Christensen’s franchise record of 95 receptions in one season by a tight end set in 1986, went one better in the finale. He finished the season with 107 catches, breaking wide receiver Tim Brown’s franchise record of 106 by any receiver set in 1997.
“I would say there's a lot more to come,” said Waller, in only his second season as a starter. “I’m definitely grateful for this moment, but I don’t want this to be my greatest day as a Raider.
“I want us to keep going, and I want our team to have great days as well and just to keep going from here. So I feel that this is definitely a great thing, but I want to keep going.”
Said Gruden: “I know Tim Brown. I have a great history with him, and I know how unbelievable of a player he was. When you start throwing around Tim Brown’s name, and you’re saying you’re breaking Tim Brown’s record, you’re in rare territory.”
Kicker Daniel Carlson, who kicked four extra points and a field goal, broke Sebastian Janikowski’s franchise record of 142 points in a season with 144.
Lock, virtually threatened to be run out of town by Broncos fans, had one of his best games of the season by completing 25-of-41 passes for 339 yards and two touchdowns. He looked like a completely different quarterback than the guy the Raiders abused with four interceptions in a 37-12 victory earlier in the season at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
Jeudy caught five passes for 140 yards and a touchdown, while Gordon rushed 26 times for 93 yards and the touchdown.
Those numbers seemed to add up to a Denver victory until Carr pulled off the 24th fourth-quarter comeback victory of his career and fifth this season.
As usual, he had the Raiders fighting to the end.
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