A black Gatorade towel draped over his head as he sat alone at the end of the bench, it was as if Derek Carr couldn’t watch. An expressionless stare adorning his face, it was as if the Raiders’ quarterback knew what was coming.
Carr had willed the Raiders to a late three-point lead, to within 103 seconds of beating the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs for the second time this season on Sunday night. But 103 seconds is a long time for the NFL’s best player, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and as much as he believed in his defense, Carr knew what might happen.
“Any time you have one of these professional quarterbacks — hopefully me included — whenever you give us time, any kind of time with a little bit of field, you feel excited to go win the game,” Carr said afterwards. “It’s what you live for. It’s what you dream of. That’s natural.”
Mahomes certainly looked natural despite the endgame pressure and needed only 75 seconds to complete Carr’s greatest fear. The former, and likely future, NFL MVP led his team right down the field and found tight end Travis Kelce alone the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown.
Chiefs 35, Raiders 31.
The victory allowed Kansas City to avenge its only loss of the past calendar year and all but dash Las Vegas’ hopes of winning its first AFC West divisional title since 2002.
If the Raiders had beaten the Chiefs, they would have been only one game back in the standings but importantly with the benefit of a tiebreaker and easier schedule the rest of the way. Instead, they sit at a nearly insurmountable three-game deficit with a 6-4 record, clinging to the final wild-card playoff spot with no room for error in their final six games starting next Sunday in Atlanta.
“It stings man,” Carr said. “Today it just wasn’t enough and it’s so unfortunate.”
Carr may have experienced the biggest reversal of fortune on a personal level. Having put together one of the finest games of his career, a second straight outdueling of Mahomes would have surely given him the full respect he sought coming into the season.
The seventh-year veteran was pinpoint accurate all night and topped it off with the prettiest 1-yard touchdown pass he’s ever thrown to put the Raiders up 31-28 late. Carr scrambled around for several seconds to buy time before finding tight end Jason Witten in a tight window in front of the end zone pylon.
It could have been a game-winning touchdown pass against any mere mortal. Mahomes is no mere mortal.
Even on what wasn’t his best night overall, the 25-year-old threw for 348 yards and two touchdowns on 34-for-45 passing. It rendered Carr’s stat line of 23-for-31 with 275 yards and three touchdowns moot.
One of Carr’s only mistakes of the night came on a desperation heave after Kelce’s game-winning touchdown that Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen snatched for a game-ending interception in the final seconds.
“(Carr) played tremendous tonight,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “He played almost flawless.”
Carr led the Raiders to two touchdowns on their first 13 plays to start the game. The first drive was capped by a macho 2-yard run from Josh Jacobs; the second a 17-yard pass from Carr to Nelson Agholor in the back of the end zone.
But Mahomes answered on both occasions, taking the Chiefs down the field in a more methodical combined total of 21 plays.
It was only the 10th NFL game in the last 20 years where both teams scored touchdowns on each of their first two drives, according to the Associated Press. From the beginning, the Chiefs and Raiders made it obvious that they were headed for another shootout, a reprise of the Raiders’ 40-32 win over the Chiefs on the road last month.
“Both offenses were firing and moving the ball,” Raiders tight end Darren Waller said. “It came down to getting the stop.”
Stops were infrequent as both teams only punted twice and consistently attacked gaps in each other’s defense.
For the Raiders, that meant a heavy reliance on Waller (7 catches for 88 yards) on intermediate routes and Agholor (6 catches for 88 yards) further down the field. Las Vegas defensively focused on not giving up big plays, which allowed Mahomes the freedom to pick it apart underneath by going to Tyreek Hill (11 catches for 102 yards) and Kelce (8 catches for 127 yards) repeatedly.
But when the game depended on staying sound down the field and getting a stop, Las Vegas’ young defense proved incapable. Mahomes caught second-year safety Johnathan Abram clearly out of position on the game-winning touchdown.
Gruden also indicated there was another lapse up front on the play but refused to divulge any more details. He absolved his players from the loss and pinned blame on himself.
“This is hard to swallow right now,” he said.
Carr echoed the same sentiments, going through what could have gone differently at the end of the game.
He wished he could have the interception back, but the situation called for nothing less than an aggressive shot at a “chunk play.” He wished the Witten touchdown could have come a little later, but that was impractical considering it was third down and the Raiders had to score a touchdown with a four-point deficit.
A shake of his head as he looked down, it was as if he was resigned to the fact that nothing could have changed.
“It just sucks it came down to something like that,” he said.