It was anything but easy, but the Las Vegas Raiders are 3-0 and remain tied with the Denver Broncos for the AFC West lead.
Daniel Carlson made amends for an earlier missed extra point by kicking a 22-yard field goal with no time left in overtime to give the Silver and Black a 31-28 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
The Raiders lead the all-time series against the Dolphins, 21-19-1, but Miami had won seven of the last eight.
“After a lot of losses, I would stand up here and try to describe how just so many little things matter,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said afterward. “And it got kind of old. I was tired of doing it. So I just started giving short answers because I was tired of talking about it. I was tired of losing.
“I definitely challenged (his young receivers) and they stepped up. Playing against these corners, that defense, the fact they were able to create separation, go up and make huge plays just gives me so much confidence. And it doesn't just happen in games, this confidence started back in camp. ... I’m just so proud of their work ethic because it's showing up during the games.
“I’m so proud of our team for being 3-0.”
Carlson has made his last 29 field goal attempts, including a 50-yarder in the second quarter against the Dolphins and a 38-yarder for the first overtime points. Jason Sanders, who missed an earlier 48-yard attempt on the last play of the first half when it hit the right upright earlier in the game, kicked a 50-yarder to prolong the extra period.
The Raiders have won their first three games of the season for the first time since 2002, the last time they went to the Super Bowl, and gained a measure of revenge against the Dolphins. The latter ended their playoff chances with a 26-25 victory when Sanders kicked a 44-yard field goal with one second left at Allegiant Stadium last December.
Perhaps you can call them the cardiac Raiders, as two of their victories this season has come in overtime, with quarterback Derek Carr throwing a 31-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Zay Jones that provided a 33-27 victory over the Baltimore Ravens in the 2021 opener.
In the first quarter, the Raiders fell behind the Dolphins, 14-0, when Elandon Roberts intercepted Carr’s pass and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown, and after Las Vegas failed on fourth-and-one at its 34-yard-line, running back Malcolm Brown broke loose for a 24-yard touchdown run.
“When you’re down 14-0 and score 25 unanswered, something is going right,” Raiders Coach Jon Gruden said. “We’ve got some young players that are getting better … some of these young guys are really improving.
“I don’t apologize for winning these games, no matter how we won them.”
Cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. got the Raiders on the scoreboard when he tackled wide receiver Jaylen Waddle in the end zone for a safety on a swing pass with 32 seconds left in the first quarter. The Raiders seemed to take command by scoring on four straight-four possessions.
After Carlson’s 50-yard field goal, Carr led the Raiders 95 yards in 10 plays, throwing a one-yard touchdown pass to fullback Alec Ingold with 1:56 left in the half to make it 14-12.
Then Carr moved the Raiders 78 yards in nine plays, hitting wide receiver Hunter Renfrow with a 10-yard scoring pass to make it 19-14 with 7:17 left in the third quarter. And Peyton Barber, who gave the Raiders the running game they didn’t have without injured Josh Jacobs, capped an 84-yard drive by scoring from a yard out with 13:47 left in the game.
It seemed that the clincher might be, but Carlson missed the extra point wide right, and the Las Vegas lead was 25-14.
The Dolphins didn’t give up, especially quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who was starting because starter Tua Tagovailoa went on the injured list this week because of fractured ribs.
Until then, Brissett was relatively quiet, but then drove the Dolphins to a 46-yard field goal by Sanders with 8:30 left to make it 25-17 in the game and then led desperation, 82-yard drive in the final minutes.
On fourth down, Brissett scrambled one yard for a touchdown before hitting wide receiver Will Fuller with a two-point conversion pass to tie the 25-25, with two seconds left in regulation.
After the Raiders and Dolphins traded field goals early in overtime, the Raiders got the ball back with 2:39 left, Carr hit the wide receiver Bryan Edwards on a 34-yard pass play, and Barber ran for 40 yards on four carries to set up Carlson for the game-winning kick.
Barber rushed for 111 yards on 23 carries, and Kenyan Drake added 24 on eight runs, while Carr completed 26-of-43 passes for 386 yards and the two touchdowns, plus the interception.
Carr, who went over 300 yards for the fifth straight game dating to last season, has led 26 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime during his career.
“I think (Barber) did more than just run it, we went to him as our third-down back and he caught a pass out of the backfield, he picked up some blitzes, he was helpful in protection, he didn’t blow any assignments, he ran hard,” Gruden said.
“I don’t even hardly know this guy. But I gave him a big hug and a game ball.”
Renfrow led the Raiders with five receptions for 77 yards, while tight end Darren Waller had five catches for 54 yards, Henry Ruggs made four for 78, and Edwards added three for 89, including the big one in overtime.
“We were down 14-0 to Baltimore as well, so that was the first thing we talked about,” Renfrow said. “… I don’t think anybody panicked, because we knew everything we did was self-inflicted. … We won the game.”
Linebacker Denzel Perryman led the Silver and Black with 14 total tackles, linebacker Cory Littleton had 10, safety Johnathan Abram made seven, cornerback Trayvon Mullen added six, and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins made five.
Defensive end Quinton Jefferson had a solo sack of Brissett, while defensive end Carl Nassib and defensive tackle Solomon Thomas teamed up for another.
However, Brissett heated up in the second half and completed 32-of-49 passes for 215 yards and rushed seven times for 37 yards to keep the Dolphins in contention right to the dramatic finish.
The Raiders will try to reach 4-0 for the first time since that 2002 season when they face the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday night, Oct. 4, at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif. The Chargers upset the Raiders’ AFC rival Kansas City Chiefs, 30-14, on Sunday.
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