The late-game magic that fueled a surprising playoff berth last season for the Las Vegas Raiders has been conspicuously absent early this season.
Whether by blowing big leads or failing to mount a late comeback, the Raiders have come up on the short end in four one-score games and head into their bye tied for the worst record in the NFL at 1-4.
“It’s tough because we are right there,” star receiver Davante Adams said. "It’s not like we are getting blown out and we don’t have answers or playing good football. We just aren’t playing 60 minutes of it. ... It is frustrating.”
It's a role reversal from what happened a year ago, when the Raiders went 7-2 in one-score games with a record four overtime wins and six walk-off victories.
It added up to 10 wins capped by a 35-32 overtime victory in Week 18 over the Chargers for the Raiders' second playoff berth in 19 seasons.
They thought they could build off that after adding Adams on offense, proven pass rusher Chandler Jones on defense and replacing interim coach Rich Bisaccia with Josh McDaniels.
Instead, the results have been far worse. Las Vegas was one of six teams with one win through the first five weeks.
“That’s what the NFL is, it’s a lot of close games every week,” McDaniels said. “When you start learning how to win them, and finishing them, you start to get a confidence and swagger about yourself, and then when you get in the next one, you feel good about it. So, I don’t think there’s any shortcut. We got to eliminate the bad stuff.”
The reasons for the close losses have varied each week but the end result has been the same as the Raiders have lost four one-score games in the first five weeks for the first time in franchise history.
The Raiders fell in an early 14-point hole in the opener against the Chargers and were unable to overcome three interceptions by Derek Carr in a 24-19 loss. Despite all the mistakes, Las Vegas had a chance to drive for the go-ahead score before back-to-back sacks ended that comeback bid.
The following week, the Raiders started fast at home against Arizona, building a 20-0 halftime lead. But the offense stalled in the second half, the defense got tired and Kyler Murray and the Cardinals rallied to tie it on the final play of regulation.
Then in overtime, the defense got a stop but Carr missed an open Adams on a play that would have gotten Las Vegas into range for a game-winning field goal. On the next play, Hunter Renfrow fumbled and Byron Murphy returned it for a game-winning touchdown.
The Raiders fell behind early again the following week at Tennessee when the defense allowed three straight long TD drives to open the game. But poor red zone offense hampered Las Vegas and the Raiders fell short at the end when a 2-point conversion that would have tied the game with 1:14 to go fell incomplete.
Las Vegas put things together for a Week 4 win at home against Denver before blowing a 17-point lead Monday night to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.
McDaniels' gamble to give his team the lead with 4:27 remaining backfired when a 2-point conversion attempt was stopped shy of the goal line, and the final drive ended when Adams and Renfrow collided on a fourth-and-1 pass that fell incomplete.
“It just comes down to one or two plays," defensive end Maxx Crosby said. “That’s the tough part. We’re getting better and better and that’s inspiring for us. We know we’re getting better, and we see it. We feel it on the field. It’s tough, but you got to take everything with a grain of salt.”
The Raiders became the fifth team in NFL history to blow two leads of at least 17 points in the first five games.
Now the question is whether the hole the Raiders have dug is too deep to escape. Nine teams since 2000 have overcome a 1-4 start to make the playoffs.
“This is a marathon,” McDaniels said. “If it was a sprint, we lost the sprint but fortunately that is not what it is. Fortunately for us, it is a marathon.”
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