The Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers played one of the most surreal regular season games in NFL history on Sunday night in Week 18. That might sound like hyperbole, but it really isn’t if you understood the stakes on both sides going into the game.
After the Jacksonville Jaguars shocked the Indianapolis Colts and the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens in the final week of the season, both the Chargers and Raiders would have made the playoffs if their regular season finale ended in a tie. If there was a winner in the game, that team would make the playoffs, the loser would miss the playoffs, and the Steelers would also get in. Every NFL fan knew about this scenario coming into the week, with many daydreaming about a game where the Chargers and Raiders both took a knee on every play of the game to ensure the tie and a mutual postseason berth.
The Jags did the improbable by beating the Colts for only their third win of the year. All the Raiders and Chargers had to do was kneel, but instead they both went all out trying to win. Despite that, the game was still so close to ending in a tie.
The Raiders led by 29-14 points with just over eight minutes left in the game. The dream of a tie appeared dead ... until the Chargers quickly scored a touchdown and completed the two-point conversion to cut the deficit to seven. After a Raiders’ three-and-out on the next possession, LA quarterback Justin Herbert led the Chargers on a dramatic game-tying drive by throwing a touchdown on the final play of regulation.
The Raiders had the first possession of OT and kicked a field goal. The Chargers answered with a field goal. It appeared the Raiders next drive had stalled out on midfield when Las Vegas running back Josh Jacobs was tackled at the Chargers’ 39-yard line on a second down play. Time was running off the clock and the Raiders appeared set to take the tie and the playoff berth, until the Chargers called a bizarre timeout.
Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth couldn't believe that Chargers head coach Brandon Staley called a timeout with 38 seconds left. pic.twitter.com/1LyfA7yYXv— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) January 10, 2022
The Raiders ran the ball again, the Jacobs busted off a 10-yard run that put his team in field goal range. Raiders kicker Daniel Carson then kicked the game-winning field goal that pushed Las Vegas and Pittsburgh into the playoffs and the Chargers out.
Everyone was asking the same question: why did the Chargers take a timeout when letting the clock expire would have put them in the playoffs?
THE CHARGERS TOOK THE TIMEOUT AND THAT BROKE THE TRUST BETWEEN THE TWO IT’S CLASSIC PRISONER’S DILEMMA— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) January 10, 2022
WHY DID THEY TAKE THE TIMEOUT MY GOD WHAT ARE YOU DOING !?!?— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) January 10, 2022
I'm dumbfounded. That Chargers timeout is one of the hilariously stupid things I've ever seen. And they didn't even get the stop!— Anthony F. Irwin (@AnthonyIrwinLA) January 10, 2022
Chargers head coach Brandon Staley explained why he called the timeout after the game, saying he wanted to get the right run defensive personnel in the game. Unfortunately, that personnel couldn’t stop Jacobs.
Brandon Staley said he called the timeout with 38 seconds remaining to get the right run D personnel grouping in the game. I asked if he was motivated at all by keeping time on the clock in case Raiders missed FG. He said his motivation was simply to make FG as long as possible.— Daniel Popper (@danielrpopper) January 10, 2022
After the game, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr admitted his team was playing for the tie until the Chargers called timeout. However, Carr also said the Raiders never wanted the tie — they wanted to win.
Watch the postgame interview here:
Here is Derek Carr’s full answer when asked if the Chargers late timeout changed the Raiders strategy— Danny Heifetz (@Danny_Heifetz) January 10, 2022
“Yeah it definitely did, obviously. But we knew no matter what we didn’t want a tie. We wanted to win the football game. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/u0kj8iEDzp
Raiders coach Rich Bisaccia said after the game that his team did consider playing for the tie but hoped to get into field goal range with a run.
We had a conversation about it toward the end there. We ran the ball early and they didn’t call timeout. So we thought probably they’re doing the same thing. We thought we could have a run in there that could possibly get us in field goal position to win it. We were going to do that, and that’s what we did.
According to the lip reading experts out there, it appeared a Raiders player told a Chargers player that Las Vegas was playing for the tie before the timeout. This probably can’t be trusted, but we’ll let you be the judge.
Watch this. The Raiders player tells Ekeler they were going to run out the clock before he called timeout pic.twitter.com/3wNNQ5DNfd— Billy M (@BillyM_91) January 10, 2022
There are plenty arguing that the Raiders weren’t going to take a knee. So yes: the Chargers still had to stop Las Vegas on the ground. Did the timeout really cost the Chargers? It remains up for debate.
Winning the game did pay dividends for the Raiders in terms of their upcoming playoff matchup. With the win, the Raiders now play the Cincinnati Bengals in the postseason. If the game ended in a tie, the Raiders would be playing the Kansas City Chiefs, who have played in each of the last two Super Bowls and won one of them.
Meanwhile, Herbert appeared to say “I’ve never wanted a tie so bad.”
Justin Herbert: "I've never wanted a tie so bad" pic.twitter.com/iRkn8QaHsx— CJ Fogler AKA Internet #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) January 10, 2022
What an absolutely hilarious way for the NFL’s regular season to end. Better luck next year, Chargers.