In postgame remarks to NBC, Las Vegas quarterback Derek Carr suggested the Raiders changed their approach after the Chargers called time with 38 seconds remaining in overtime.
He implied the Raiders were more intent on winning — rather than taking the tie that would have advanced both teams to the playoffs — after Chargers coach Brandon Staley stopped the clock.
But Carr also said Las Vegas was trying to win the whole time, so who can really be certain? Staley explained that he called time to get the Chargers in a better personnel grouping against the run.
Safety Derwin James Jr. dismissed Carr’s remarks and said it was the Chargers’ lack of execution that was responsible for them missing out on the postseason.
Justin Herbert did everything he could to get the Chargers into the playoffs but it wasn’t enough to overcome a determined Raiders team and its fans.
“We can’t believe what he’s saying in that moment,” James said. “I mean, we didn’t make the plays to win the game. We can’t depend on somebody kneeing it out to be in the playoffs.”
Rather than the timeout, it seems more likely that the Raiders changed their approach following Josh Jacobs’ 10-yard gain on third-and-four, advancing the ball to the Chargers’ 29-yard line.
Instead of facing a 57-yard field-goal attempt, Las Vegas suddenly had a 47-yarder. Daniel Carlson’s career-long kick came from 56 yards, earlier this year.
“I had never been rooting for a tie more in my life,” Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert said. “That’s the unfortunate part of being so close.”
In opening the season 4-1, the Chargers looked like a playoff team. They seemed to reaffirm that status again later, in Week 13, with a convincing 41-22 victory at Cincinnati, which would go on to win the AFC North.
A week later, the Chargers beat the New York Giants at home to improve to 8-5. But they lost three of their final four games to finish 10th in the AFC.
“We just couldn’t create enough separation,” Staley said. “We had to have this game, and we just couldn’t quite finish it out. But this team laid it on the line.
“Tonight was a great example of the way we played all season, the belief we have in one another, the belief in this place and how we do things. We set a big-time foundation for the future.”
The Chargers finished 9-8 after going 12-20 in former coach Anthony Lynn’s final two seasons. They have missed the playoffs in each of the last three years.
Flags were flying
The Chargers committed 10 penalties that were accepted for 108 yards. They gave Las Vegas five first downs with various infractions, including pass interference calls on linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. and cornerback Chris Harris Jr.
The penalty on Harris appeared debatable, as the pass from Carr landed nowhere near receiver Zay Jones, who tangled with Harris near the goal line.
“I just feel like it wasn’t a catchable ball,” James said. “The receiver kind of flopped with it. But that’s what you teach your receivers.”
The Harris call came with 41 seconds left in the second quarter and gave the Raiders the ball at the Chargers’ one-yard line. Jacobs scored on the next play, providing a momentum shift Staley said was critical.
“Those penalties, man, they really hurt us today,” James said. “It’s not like they were just bombing us away. It was just those penalties on the third downs. You can’t play like that in this league.”
The Chargers converted more fourth downs — six — than any NFL team in a single game in at least 40 years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
They went it for it seven times in all, and that one failure left Staley answering questions.
On their second possession of the third quarter, the Chargers turned the ball over on downs when Staley went for it on fourth-and-one at his team’s 18-yard line.
Herbert handed off to Austin Ekeler, who lost two yards when he was smothered by Darius Philon and Roderic Teamer, a pair of former Chargers.
Rather than call for a pass — Staley has defended his fourth-down decisions often by noting that Herbert is the Chargers’ best player and therefore best option — he explained that he liked running the ball in that situation based on the defensive alignment.
“We felt like the personnel grouping that they had out there … they weren’t in a goal-line defense,” Staley said. “We felt like we had a plenty good enough play call for that. They took away the advantage look, and it just didn’t go down for us.”
In bitter defeat, edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu might have played his finest NFL game yet. He finished with seven tackles, a sack and three other tackles for loss. Nwosu also batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage.
A second-round draft pick in 2018 from USC, Nwosu just finished the final season of his rookie contract. He is in line for a healthy raise after appearing in all 17 games this year with 15 starts.
After a thrilling Week 18 of the NFL season, the playoffs are set. Here’s a breakdown of each first-round matchup and what to watch for next weekend.
Murray’s increased usage
Following a season of inconsistent playing time, Murray was on the field plenty Sunday. He often was deployed as a pass rusher but also was used in coverage.
Staley explained that Murray was used because of the pressure he can apply to a quarterback and also because he is the team’s best linebacker in man-to-man coverage.
“We felt like that would be a role for him in this game,” Staley said, “that would be a lift for us.”
The Chargers sacked Carr three times, including a strip sack by Joey Bosa, his league-leading seventh of the year. But they hit Carr only five times total.
Herbert under fire
Despite facing steady pressure, especially after halftime, Herbert helped bring the Chargers back from being down 29-14 in the final five minutes of regulation. Las Vegas defensive end Maxx Crosby repeatedly beat right tackle Storm Norton.
Still, Staley defended the play of his offensive line.
“They held their own well enough for us to come back from a 15-point deficit,” he said. “They held their own enough for us to throw our way back into the game. I’m really proud of that group hanging in there tough.”
Crosby finished with two sacks and four quarterback hits. The Raiders were credited with 10 hits on Herbert.
“They’ve got some really good edge rushers and that’s the tough part,” Herbert said. “I thought our guys up front battled. I had plenty of time to get the ball off. They might have gotten back there a couple times to get some pressure, but we made plays.”
Herbert’s 69 passing touchdowns and 77 total touchdowns — rushing and passing — are the most for an NFL player in his first two seasons.
Attack of the former Chargers
Denzel Perryman led Las Vegas with nine tackles. Brandon Facyson had seven tackles and two pass breakups. Philon and Teamer combined for their fourth-down stop of Ekeler.
Casey Hayward had an interception, and Tyron Johnson caused a special-teams fumble that led to a Raiders touchdown.
And the Las Vegas defense, of course, was coordinated by Gus Bradley.