There are no moral victories in the NFL, but the Las Vegas Raiders proved on Sunday Night Football that they are playoff contenders, while the Kansas City Chiefs showed why they are reigning Super Bowl champions.
Patrick Mahomes threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to wide-open tight end Travis Kelce with 28 seconds left in the game to give the Chiefs a 35-31 victory over the Raiders at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
The Chiefs were impressed, but that’s of little consolation for the Raiders.
“This is the best Raiders team I’ve played since I’ve been in the league,” Kelce told reporters after the game. “(Mahomes) kind of turns it up when it really matters the most.”
The Raiders and Chiefs have been battling like this since the first season of the American Football League in 1960 and this one was reminiscent of some of those old-time, AFL shootouts.
The Chiefs (9-1), who ran their winning streak to five games since a 40-32 loss to the Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, took a three-game lead over the Raiders (6-4) in the AFC West with six games left in the regular season.
The Raiders, who saw their four-game winning streak end as they try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and for only the second time in 17 seasons, missed a chance to tie the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee for the lead in the AFC wild-card race at 7-3.
“I’m really proud of our team,” Raiders Coach Jon Gruden said. “Congratulations to the Chiefs, they made a couple more plays than we did. … This is a hard pill to swallow right now.”
Derek Carr threw only his third interception of the season to Kansas City safety Daniel Sorensen on a desperation throw down the field with 19 seconds remaining to seal the victory for the Chiefs.
Carr, who has led the Raiders to 22 comeback victories in the fourth quarter during his six-year career, had given the Raiders a 31-28 lead with 1:43 left in the game on a one-yard touchdown pass to veteran tight end Jason Witten, capping a 75-yard scoring drive in 12 plays.
However, that gave Super Bowl MVP Mahomes too much time to help Coach Andy Reid run his record to 19-3 the week after his team has had a bye.
“I’ve got Pat Mahomes,” Reid said. “I know if you give me a minute and a half, I’m pretty good right there. … I thought we had enough time there to get rolling. I’d take him over everybody, and I’m lucky to have him, as we are as a football team, as we are as a city. When you’re behind, he can make things happen … He’s got guys that believe in him around him and work like crazy to get themselves open.
“ … The rivalry between the Raiders and the Chiefs I think is a great thing for football. It’s great to be a part of it. I know that team is well coached, and I know they have great players.”
Mahomes needed only seven plays to drive the Chiefs 75 yards to the game-winning score.
Outplayed by Carr in the Raiders’ victory in Week 5, Mahomes this time completed 34-of-45 passes for 348 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. It was only his second pick of the season against 27 scoring passes, both interceptions coming against the Raiders.
“There was no doubt that we wanted to win, and I think the guys came to play,” Mahomes said. “They’ve beat a lot of good football teams, including us.”
Safety Jeff Heath picked off a pass by Mahomes in the first meeting with the Chiefs, and Trayvon Mullen kept the Raiders ahead, 17-14, at halftime this time when he intercepted a pass by on the Las Vegas three-yard-line with 26 seconds left in the second quarter.
It was the second straight week the Raiders preserved a halftime lead with an interception, as Heath picked off a pass by Drew Lock of the Denver Broncos on the goal line with five seconds left to keep the Silver and Black ahead, 10-6, en route to a 37-12 victory.
The Raiders just couldn’t stop Mahomes, who completed 11 passes to wide receiver Tyreek Hill for 102 yards and a touchdown, and eight to Kelce for 127 yards and his game-winning score.
Rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire helped the Chiefs control the ball for 32 minutes five seconds of the game by rushing 14 times for 69 yards and two touchdowns, while Le’Veon Bell, the former All-Pro for the Pittsburgh Steelers, added seven carries for 25 yards and a score.
Bell’s six-yard touchdown run capped a 91-yard scoring drive that gave the Chiefs a 28-24 lead with 5:54 left in the game before Carr took the Raiders to his TD pass to Witten.
However, that left the Chiefs with the last real opportunity and they took advantage, the way champions do.
Carr had another strong game, completing 23-of-31 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns. His favorite receiver, tight end Darren Waller, again led the Raiders with seven catches for 88 yards and a three-yard touchdown, while wide receiver Nelson Agholor caught six passes, also for 88 yards, and a seven-yard touchdown.
“This is the best offense I've ever been a part of,” Carr said after the game. “This group is awesome, and I know I say it every week, but we can win in different ways, you know? We can smash them with the run game, or we can do a shootout.
“We’re proving that over time and the exciting part is that everyone's young. I’m the old guy in the group, I guess. It’s exciting because you see where we’re headed. It’s showing you little glimpses.
“ … It’s exciting, but today it wasn’t enough.”
Josh Jacobs led the Raiders with 55 yards rushing on 17 carries, including a two-yard run for the first touchdown of the game, as Carr took the Raiders 75 yards in only six plays following the opening kickoff for a 7-0 led with 11:25 left in the first quarter.
Safety Johnathan Abram led the Raiders with nine total tackles, including seven unassisted, while linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski had nine tackles, with six unassisted, and linebacker Nicholas Morrow had eight total, with six unassisted.
The Raiders stayed with the Chiefs despite having nine defensive players who missed practice this week because they were on the Reserve/Covid 19 list. Six of them returned for the game, but defensive end Clelin Ferrell, linebacker Cory Littleton and nickelback Lamarcus Joyner remain on the list.
Defensive end Maxx Crosby had the Raiders pass rush put pressure on Mahomes throughout the game, but he showed he is just as adept at throwing on the run as he is standing in the pocket.
Right until the bitter end.
The Raiders will try to get on the winning track next Sunday on the road against the Atlanta Falcons.
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