The 2021 season for the Las Vegas Raiders was a roller coaster of affairs. Despite a hot start, off-field incidents and injuries to key players threatened to end the postseason hopes for the Raiders. Still, this team battled through the adversity to make it to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
Every game in the NFL is important, every game a “must win,” but some carry more importance than other. While every win for the Raiders was massive, there are three specific games that had a higher importance than the rest.
Baltimore Ravens (Week 1, 09/13/2021)
The best way to start off the season is with a win and that is exactly what the Raiders looked to do. Welcoming fans to Allegiant Stadium for the first time, the Raiders looked to kick off the season the right way on a national stage against the visiting Baltimore Ravens.
It was there that EDGE defender Maxx Crosby made his name known, accumulating two of the three total sacks for the Raiders. Ravens QB Lamar Jackson was never settled as the ferocious Las Vegas pass rush went after Jackson relentlessly, seemingly in the Ravens backfield as soon as the ball was snapped. The defense paved the way for the Raiders, as the team would win in overtime 33-27.
“I hope this is a sign of things to come for us. Who cares how we do it? Let’s just win… All I keep saying is ‘I just want to win.’ Who cares if it’s ugly or pretty? I do not care. We won the game. I’m celebrating that. That’s the only thing that matters,” QB Derek Carr said following the win when how much of a foundational victory this could be for the franchise.
This win for the Raiders set the tone for the rest of the season. Not only could the Raiders go toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the league, they could win. Derek Carr had ice in his veins as he led three separate drives to tie the game in the 4th quarter and finished the overtime win with 435 yards and two touchdowns.
The Las Vegas victory put the league on notice and showed everyone that this team was not like those of the Raiders recent past. They showed that they could win with an overwhelming pass rush and a high octane aerial assault.
@ Dallas Cowboys (Week 12, 11/25/201)
Heading into Week 12, it looked as though the Raiders were derailing after a promising start. A few weeks removed from the resignation of former head coach Jon Gruden and his controversial comments and the tragedy involving former first-round pick WR Henry Ruggs III, the team was also coming off three straight losses and the season was threatening to spiral.
With hopes of a division title, and even a post-season appearance, fading with each loss, the Raiders had to make a defiant stand to turn their season around and they did so in front of a national audience on Thanksgiving Day.
The stars of Las Vegas all stepped up in a big way. Derek Carr put the team on his back and unleashed 373 yards and a touchdown. His favorite target that day would be a familiar one down the stretch in WR Hunter Renfrow, as the Clemson product put up a career high 134 yards on eight catches.
RB Josh Jacobs ignited the running game as he rumbled for 87 yards and a touchdown and added two receptions for 25 yards. The defense did their job well, holding a solid Cowboys rushing attack lead by RBs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard to just 64 yards, the second-lowest outing of the season at that point.
“Obviously, excited for the men in that room to keep competing to the bitter and come out on the winning end of that (game),” interim head coach Rich Bisaccia said after the overtime victory. “We ended up on the winning end today. Really excited for the effort (the players) have been putting in here now for the last month. We haven’t come up on the winning side for a few of these and they did today.”
The 36-33 overtime win was the Raiders’ first on Thanksgiving since 1968 and it could not have come at a better time as the victory pushed the Raiders to a 6-5 record. The three game losing streak came to a screeching halt and Las Vegas found themselves right back in the thick of the playoff hunt.
The Raiders scored a major victory over a talented opponent and they did so in a variety of way. While it wasn’t the prettiest of wins, it was a Raiders win nonetheless and the Silver and Black defiantly showed all others that this team was far from down and out.
“Every win feels amazing. Just winning the way we did in overtime with Daniel Carlson hitting that field goal. It gives us life man, we’re trying to keep it going,” Jacobs said following the game when asked about the importance of that win after losing three straight.
Los Angeles Chargers (Week 18, 01/09/2022)
To many, this was the game of the year. To some, it was one of the greatest games of all-time. The stakes were as high as they could get. The winning team goes to the postseason while the loser’s season was over. Add in the twist that if the game ends in a tie, both teams advance to the playoffs, and it was a recipe for a bizarre, yet exhilarating, primetime showdown between AFC West foes.
The Raiders would jump out to 10-0 first quarter lead before the Chargers rattled off two straight touchdowns. Las Vegas would go into halftime with a 17-14 lead thanks to a Josh Jacobs one-yard touchdown run.
The game would only get crazier in the second half. Josh Jacobs would lead the offense and have his best outing of the season, accumulating 132 rushing yards and a touchdown. The Raiders found themselves ahead but unable to pull away from a potent Chargers offense. Los Angeles quarterback Justin Herbert converted several 4th down attempts to keep the hopes of his team alive.
In overtime, the game came down to the final drive. The Raiders drove to midfield, nearing field goal range. With the clock running and the score tied 32-32, Chargers head coach Brandon Staley called for a controversial time out to stop the clock. The next play, Jacobs took a handoff up the middle for 10 yards, putting the Raiders at the Los Angeles 29 yard line. Pro Bowl kicker Daniel Carlson took it from there, booting the game-winning field goal through the uprights to send the Raiders to the playoffs.
“We just found a way to have a chance to win at the end. We’ve been in this situation before. I just can’t say enough about how this team prepares and going into the game and playing like that,” interim head coach Rich Bisaccia said. “They believe in each other when they go out there. They don’t blink.”
It was only fitting that the Raiders got into the postseason following a wild, back and forth win on primetime. The fifth overtime game of the year for Las Vegas proved to be a microcosm of the Raiders season, as it was an up and down affair from the opening whistle to the game-winning field goal. Despite being unable to put the game away despite repeated opportunities to do so, the Raiders never wavered in their confidence. This game displayed what the Raiders have more of than anything else: heart.
“We’ve had ups and downs all season but we have guys who love football,” said Crosby. “We have dudes with heart.”
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