LAS VEGAS – The Las Vegas Raiders used to win these types of white knuckle games.
Instead, Hunter Renfrow was a lone figure at his locker, head in hands, Sunday as tight end Foster Moreau stopped by with a word of encouragement, followed by quarterback Derek Carr.
And as dejected as Renfrow, whose fumbling led to a scoop and walk-off 59-yard result for the Arizona Cardinals in a 29-23 overtime loss, his teammates were just as shocked.
How could they have dropped a 20-0 halftime lead, the widest lead in franchise history, to 2-0 to travel next to the Tennessee Titans?
After an NFL-record six walkoff wins last season that sent the Raiders into the playoffs for only the second time since 2002, karma called. And not just on Sunday against the Cardinals. It happened last week in Los Angeles when the Raiders were on the verge of winning ahead of Khalil Mack at the Chargers and reality slapped them in the face, halting the Raiders’ potential go-ahead in a 24-19 Las Vegas loss.
And even in that January playoff game, the Raiders appeared poised to complete the comeback at the Cincinnati Bengals before Carr was picked off two yards from the end zone in a 26-19 loss.
“It sucks,” said Raiders Pro Bowl defenseman Maxx Crosby, who got his first sack of the season when he defeated Kyler Murray. “I generally never want to lose, so yeah, it hurts. Especially this way. I still don’t even understand how we lost.”
Consider: Las Vegas was dominant in the first half as the Raiders gained 258 yards in 38 games and had 15 first downs in four drives.
And when the Raiders’ offense died down after halftime — Carr was just 7 of 15, passing for 42 yards and the Raiders scored three points on five possessions — the Cardinals in general, and Murray in particular, woke up.
“You have to keep the ability to be aggressive,” coach Josh McDaniels said on Monday. “We have to learn to play aggressively with a lead… there is an art to learning how to end a game properly against an opponent who is pressuring to get back in. It is what it is. That’s going to happen in every game you’re in the lead.”
An indictment of his acting skills or the playing of Carr? With this small sample size, you read between the lines.
“We had two completely different scripts here in the first two weeks – we were down by a couple of touchdowns at halftime [at the Chargers] and now we are three ahead [against Arizona] and we need to figure out how to learn from both and do better next time,” McDaniels said.
Perhaps no Sunday game spoke more of the Raiders’ malaise and last season’s reversal of fortunes than Murray, who slammed for 85.69 yards (according to NFL Next Gen Stats) and needed more than 20 seconds for a successful two-point conversion to play to bring the Cardinals within 23-15 with 8:13.
Cardinals QB Kyler Murray buys time in the pocket and crawls all over the field for a 2-point conversion with his legs.
Those were the kinds of inexplicable plays the Raiders made on the track last season.
Running back Josh Jacobs said he could feel the momentum changing, but the Raiders didn’t respond.
“They’re doing a play, you’re doing a play,” he shrugged. “We just couldn’t do that.”
Las Vegas also failed to keep the ball rolling.
After running 42 yards with 11 carries in the first half, Jacobs only had eight carries in the second half. He didn’t touch the ball in overtime, even when the Raiders were at the Cardinals’ 39-yard line and just had to milk the clock and get a few yards to get within range of field kicker Daniel Carlson.
“I feel like that’s over my head,” Jacobs said when asked if the Raiders had trouble moving the ball after halftime because Arizona did something, or if the Raiders just stopped den ball to run. “It’s not really my decision. I just feel like I was just trying to get out there and do what I could.”
The Raiders’ last three games have vacillated between joy and horror.
First, Renfrow fumbled after an 11-yard catch-and-run, but Moreau was there to capture the ball.
A snap later, Carr threw a deep pass to receiver Davante Adams, but missed wide, the ball somehow slipping through the hands of Cardinal safety Jalen Thompson.
Then came the quick and brutal end.
Renfrow, attempting for that extra yard after a 1-yard pickup on a quick pass from Carr, was leveled by linebacker Isaiah Simmons to break the ball loose. It was picked up by cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. and returned at the end of the game.
Renfrow was checked for a concussion.
It was an all-time gut punch in terms of the Raiders’ recent losses. There with the Miami Dolphins’ “Fitzmagic” game in 2020, when Ryan Fitzpatrick, whose head was twisted by Arden Key in “Exorcist” fashion, completed a deep ball with time running out to set up a game-winning field goal. And the last game in Oakland, when Carr was mistakenly kicked out of the game on a chute to stop the clock and give the Jacksonville Jaguars time to send the Raiders out of California with an L. Or Rolando McClain defending Calvin Johnson deep in 2011, or The Raiders took a 21-3 lead in Buffalo earlier this season.
If it feels familiar, it sounds the same.
“You know me — I’m optimistic,” Carr said. “This crap isn’t over yet. We feel like shit right now, but we’re still a good football team. So [I’m] Make sure we keep the same mindset and not, ‘Oh no, it’s over.’”
He was talking about this season, not the Raiders’ winning streak they created last season.