Instant Analysis: Defense falls apart as Raiders squander chance to sweep Chiefs

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Christopher DeVargas

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) is tackled by Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Nevin Lawson (26) during the first half of their game at Allegiant Stadium Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020.

Sun, Nov 22, 2020 (9:05 p.m.)

The Raiders had Kansas City beat on Sunday night, but Patrick Mahomes ripped out their collective heart and stepped on it by leading a game-winning touchdown drive in the final seconds as only he can.

It was a devastating loss for Las Vegas, which took the lead on a Derek Carr touchdown pass with 1:53 to play. That proved to be way too much time to leave for Mahomes, and he quickly led the Chiefs the length of the field before hitting Travis Kelce with a ridiculous cross-field throw for a 22-yard touchdown. That put Kansas City up, 35-31, with 34 seconds on the clock.

Derek Carr went deep on the first play of Las Vegas' next drive, and his desperation heave was picked off to seal the loss. The Raiders, so close to sweeping their division rivals, instead fall to 6-4 with the loss, tied at the moment with Baltimore and Miami for the AFC's seventh and final playoff spot.

A quick analysis of a tough, tough defeat:

Defense bends and breaks

No one expects the Las Vegas defense to stop the Chiefs. No defense could do that. But the Raiders needed just a little bit more backbone from the D, especially late in the game, and they did not deliver.

Both times Mahomes got the ball in the fourth quarter, his team was trailing. At the end of each drive, his team was winning.

Mahomes took over possession with six minutes on the clock, trailing 24-21, and proceeded to connect on 6-of-7 passes for 63 yards, leading KC down the field and setting up a Leveon Bell touchdown run to take the lead. After Derek Carr responded with a go-ahead touchdown drive of his own, Mahomes found himself 75 yards from the end zone with only 1:53 on the clock.

Once again, the Raiders defense was no match. Mahomes went 6-of-7 to account for all 75 yards, and he saved his most brilliant throw for last. Forced out of the pocket on a 2nd-and-7 from the Las Vegas 22, Mahomes rolled right and fired across his body, hitting Travis Kelce in the middle of the end zone for the winning touchdown.

This game was always going to be a shootout, and it almost seems unfair to judge a defense by how it performs against the Chiefs. But the Raiders have major, obvious holes on defense, and it's not just because they were missing key players on Sunday (linebacker Cory Littleton and defensive end Clelin Ferrell were out due to COVID-19).

The defense gets a pass for this loss, simply because of the Mahomes factor. But there are six games left in the season, and no more juggernaut offenses on the schedule; if Las Vegas is serious about being a playoff team — a tenuous but achievable goal, at the moment — the defense has to stiffen up. Missed tackles, late hit penalties and pass-interference flags in the end zone aren't going to cut it in crunch time.

Carr puts on a show in prime time

Coming into the season there was open speculation as to whether Derek Carr was really Las Vegas’ long-term answer at quarterback. You won’t hear much of that talk anymore.

Carr has solidified himself as the Raiders’ franchise quarterback, and nothing has done more to bolster that status than his performances against Kansas City this year. After passing for 347 yards and three touchdowns in the Raiders’ stunning Week 5 win at KC, the seventh-year pro was even better in the rematch, torching the Chiefs secondary again on Sunday for 275 yards and three TDs while leading Las Vegas on a game-winning drive in the final minutes.

Well, it turned out not to be a game-winning drive, thanks to Mahomes playing spoiler. But Carr's final drive, on which he hit 4-of-7 passes for 43 yards, was inspiring. Facing a 3rd-and-goal from the Kansas City 1-yard line, Carr dropped back, eluded pressure, scrambled and waited until the final possible second before threading the needle to Jason Witten for the go-ahead score. It may have been the best play of Carr's career, and it deserved to be remembered in a winning light. Oh well.

The good news is, Carr has now gone toe-to-toe with Patrick Mahomes, the NFL’s marquee player, twice this season, and both times Carr performed like a superstar. He can beat the Chiefs, even if he didn't on Sunday.

A quarterback who can outplay Mahomes twice in one season is a player around whom you should be building. For the Raiders, Carr is that quarterback.

Arnette baptized

Rookie cornerback Damon Arnette missed the first meeting with the Chiefs due to a thumb injury, but he started on Sunday and boy did he get the full Andy Reid/Patrick Mahomes experience.

Lining up almost exclusively on the right side as an outside cornerback, Arnette was targeted constantly by Mahomes. At times it looked like an all-out assault on the No. 19 overall pick; Kansas City threw short and forced him to come up and tackle in space, tested him deep, and Mahomes especially went after Arnette when he was isolated against tight end Travis Kelce.

Kelce is a tough cover for anyone, and he seemed to enjoy baptizing Arnette in front of a national audience. Kelce split out against Arnette on several occasions and won every single confrontation; he caught a pivot route against Arnette on KC’s first drive, then drew a pass-interference penalty on Arnette in the end zone in the second quarter, setting up a Clyde Edwards-Helaire touchdown run. Kelce also caught a slant against Arnette and quickly spun out of the rookie’s tackle, adding some humiliating YAC onto a 19-yard gain.

The hope is that Arnette will be better for the experience. He didn’t seem to back down or give in, as he and Kelce got into two spats after the whistle. In the fourth quarter, Mahomes locked in on Arnette and tested him deep down the sideline with a bomb intended for Tyreek Hill, but Arnette stayed stride for stride with the NFL’s best deep threat and knocked the pass away incomplete. That's the kind of moxie you want to see from a young corner.

As already mentioned, the Raiders are going to need the defense to come through again in a big moment at some point this season, whether they are called on to get a big stop on fourth down or break up a Hail Mary or get off the field in a 2-minute situation. Arnette has to be a big part of that turnaround. On Sunday we saw the upside that Arnette brings, but also the pitfalls of throwing a rookie into the fire.

Next up

The Raiders have killed it away from Allegiant Stadium this season, posting a 4-1 record on the road, so the next two weeks — at Atlanta (Nov. 29) and at the New York Jets (Dec. 6) — aren't as daunting as they might have seemed when the schedule was released months ago.

Both games should be very winnable. The Jets are intentionally tanking and want to go 0-16, and the Falcons looked like a complete mess on offense in Sunday’s 24-9 loss to New Orleans. Atlanta is now 3-7 on the season and on its second head coach.

You wouldn't normally think about back to back roadies as the time to "get well" in the NFL, but if the Raiders can win both they'll come home with an 8-4 record and a very favorable closing schedule ahead of them. As tough as Sunday's loss to Kansas City was, the Raiders have to get over it quickly and take care of business on the road. This could be the make-or-break portion of the schedule that eventually decides the team's playoff fate.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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