The slim playoff hopes of the Las Vegas Raiders seemed to be alive, for one more day at least, until the Miami Dolphins pulled off a miracle in the final minute.
Jason Sanders kicked a 44-yard field goal with two seconds remaining on Saturday night to give the Dolphins a 26-25 victory over the Raiders, who seemed to have won the game at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas only seconds earlier.
Veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick came off the bench in the fourth quarter to rally the Dolphins (10-5) to victory and keep their post-season hopes alive ahead of their regular-season finale next week on the road against the Buffalo Bills.
“We just felt like we needed a spark, trying to win the game,” Dolphins Coach Brian Flores told reporters in explaining the switch after the game. “If we have to go to a relief pitcher in the ninth, that’s what we’ll do.
“Fitz is always ready to go. He went in and moved the ball for us. We were able to make enough plays to win the game.”
The Raiders (7-8), lost for the fifth time in the last six games after being in a solid position at 6-3. When looking back at their first season in Sin City, the Silver and Black will see where the season got away from them—at their multi-million dollar new stadium, where they went 2-6.
Derek Carr seemed to pull off the 24th four-quarter comeback victory of his career, and sixth this season, when he took the Raiders down the field for Daniel Carlson’s 22-yard field goal that gave Las Vegas a 25-23 lead with 19 seconds remaining.
The Raiders were aided by a 49-yard pass interference penalty against cornerback Byron Jones, who was trying to cover wide receiver Nelson Agholor on Carr’s long bomb down the middle of the field with 2:20 left in the game.
From the Miami 22-yard-line, the Raiders gave the ball to running back Josh Jacobs four times for 16 yards to run down the clock and get to the one-yard-line, but instead of trying to score a touchdown that would have made the Dolphins also need a TD, they settled for three.
“I don’t regret it one bit,” Raiders Coach Jon Gruden said. “I just regret the results. … It’s hard one to swallow, a terrible way to lose a game. I really admire the way we compete, but until we close out games, we’ll continue to be disappointed.
“With 19 seconds left, they made a play and we had a penalty, inexcusable. … This is obviously a reflection on me.”
On the first play after the ensuing kickoff, wide receiver Mack Hollins got loose down the sideline against the Raiders zone defense and caught a 34-yards pass from Fitzpatrick, and 15 yards were added on because defensive end Arden Key grabbed Fitzpatrick by the facemask while nearly sacking him.
Two plays later, Sanders kicked the game-winning field goal and the Raiders were left wondering what happened.
“The odds are pretty low there of us being able to complete something with the proper yardage,” Fitzpatrick said of his pass to Hollins. “I didn’t know it was complete. My head was getting ripped off.”
Fitzpatrick had much to do with it, coming off the bench in place of rookie Tua Tagovailoa with just under 10 minutes remaining in the game and taking the Dolphins down the field to Sanders’ 22-yard field goal with 4:01 left that tied the score, 16-16.
However, Agholor beat Jones to catch Carr’s pass down the right sideline and zigzagged the rest of the way for a spectacular 85-yard touchdown to give the Raiders a 22-16 lead with 3:37 left.
But normally reliable Carlson missed the extra point wide right, and in the end, it was another factor in the Silver and Black’s doom.
On the next series, Fitzpatrick threw a short pass to running back Miles Gaskin, who weaved through the Raiders for a 59-yard touchdown, and the Dolphins had their first lead of the game, 23-22, with 2:55 left.
When Sanders kicked the extra point, the Dolphins had their first lead of the game, 23-22, and in the end, Sanders provided the game-winner with his fourth field goal of the game.
Fitzpatrick completed 9-of-13 passes for 182 yards and the touchdown after Tagovailoa was 17-of-22 for 94 yards and a 10-yard touchdown pass to Gaskin that tied the score, 13-13, early in the third quarter.
“I want to go (to the playoffs),” said Fitzpatrick, who hasn't been to the post-season in 16-year NFL career. “I want to feel what it’s like. I feel like we have a special team. I’m proud I’ve been able to contribute to that.”
Gaskin rushed 14 times for 87 yards and caught five passes for 82 yards.
“That’s what football is all about, especially in the NFL,” Gaskin said. “Probably the most fun game I’ve played in my life.”
Carr completed 21-of-34 passes for 336 yards and the touchdown to Agholor without an interception, after missing most of the Raiders' last game against the Los Angeles Chargers because of a left groin injury.
“This is one might be the hardest (loss),” said Carr, who scored the first touchdown of the game on one-yard quarterback sneak in the first quarter. “It’s a tough way to got out, especially with all the emotion (because) of the injury. I’m just thankful that I was able to play this game.
“I feel sick for our organization, for our team. To watch it go down like that, I feel sick for all our guys, and my heart feels for our fans.”
Agholor caught five passes for 155 yards, while tight end Darren Waller had five receptions for 112 yards, and Jacobs led the Raiders with 69 yards on 13 carries.
Waller has 98 receptions this season, breaking Todd Christensen’s record of 95 set in 1986.
However, the only numbers that mattered at the finish were 26-25 and 7-8.
The Raiders will finish their first season since moving from Oakland to Las Vegas when they play the AFC West rival Denver Broncos on the road next week at Empower Field at Mile High.
All they have to play for is pride.
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