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To make playoffs, Chargers could tie one on with Raiders in Las Vegas

 Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert throws a pass.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has five game-winning drives in the fourth quarter this season.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

During their visit to Las Vegas last season, the Chargers won with 89 seconds remaining in overtime when Justin Herbert scored on third-and-goal from the Raiders’ one-yard line.

As dramatic as that conclusion was, if a similar scenario were to unfold Sunday night at Allegiant Stadium, the story would have all that drama — and more.

Why? The 9-7 Chargers advance to the postseason with a win or a tie, meaning playing to beat their AFC West rivals actually could become a secondary consideration.

“We’re just going to have to wait and see on that,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said Friday. “I don’t know if I can speak in absolutes. I think that we’ll just have to wait and see if that situation expresses itself, and then we’ll be forced to make a decision. And that’ll certainly be a big one.”

Under this year’s circumstances, the 2020 Chargers could have opted to minimize the turnover risk involved with going for a touchdown after they had first-and-goal at the Las Vegas’ two-yard line with 2:19 remaining.

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Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa and Raiders quarterback Derek Carr exchanged barbs after L.A.'s 28-14 victory in October, but with showdown ahead they stick to compliments.

Then-coach Anthony Lynn could have run down the clock as far as possible — the Raiders had one timeout left, plus the two-minute warning — and kicked a short field goal to tie the score, 27-27.

That still would have left Las Vegas with a chance to win. But barring a last-minute Raiders rally, that scenario in Week 18 would put the Chargers into the playoffs for the time since the 2018 season and give the NFL a very rare triumphant tie.

Asked Friday if playing for a tie — under the appropriate circumstances — would enter into his thinking late in this game, Staley said: “It has to. … It potentially could happen.”

“I think what I’ve always tried to say when it comes to decision-making like that is we’re going to do what’s best for our team,” he continued. “If that’s what’s best for our team, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Another overtime scenario to consider for Sunday would be if the score was tied and the Chargers took over deep in their territory in the final, say, two minutes. Instead of trying to score and risk a turnover, they could focus on draining the clock, especially if they were able to pick up one first down.

In other words, with a tie being as good as a win, the Chargers could play as if they had the lead even if they don’t.

The Chargers beat the Raiders 28-14 at home in October, but L.A. coach Brandon Staley says neither team resembles the squads that played in the fall.

During the regular season, going for the victory under these types of conditions would be the obvious choice. But on Sunday, it is quite conceivable that going for the tie could be the more prudent decision.

Think of it this way: If the Chargers tie Las Vegas, they do win because they advance.

“Scenarios like that are what makes the game so special,” Staley said. “There’s a lot that can happen. That’s why the NFL is amazing. So we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. And hopefully we’ll be well prepared for it.”

All this being said, Staley assured that his team would start the game Sunday intent on winning.

“I don’t think the Raiders or the Chargers are trying to tie in any shape or form,” he said. “I know that we’re both trying to win this game. … We’ll see where fate takes us. But I know we’re gonna do everything we can to close it out.”

Herbert certainly has proven himself to be an admirable closer through his first two NFL seasons. He has eight career game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, including five this season.

The Times’ Sam Farmer analyzes each matchup and predicts the winners of Week 18 of the 2021 NFL season.

His overtime sneak for the win in Las Vegas last December came in the middle of a stretch during which the Chargers won three consecutive games in the final minute.

Herbert has shined under the NFL’s brightest lights, too. In five prime-time games, he has averaged 284 yards passing with 14 touchdowns and two interceptions. The Chargers are 3-2 in those appearances.

“The dude’s an unbelievable player,” running back Justin Jackson said. “He heightens his level in those games. That’s what great players do.”


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