The Raiders contributed to a wild and wacky Week 15 featured dramatic comebacks and spectacular walk-offs.
Although the other fantastic finishes made the highlight reels pop, Chandler Jones' return touchdown will go down as one of the wackiest plays in NFL history. With the image of No. 55 rumbling into the end zone fresh in my mind, I wanted to spend a little more time digging into the tape to assess how the Raiders are progressing down the stretch.
Here are my thoughts…
Just Win, Baby!
The highlights from Chandler Jones' walk-off fumble return may play on repeat at the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day as football fans attempt to make sense of the dramatic ending.
Although Rhamondre Stevenson and Jakobi Meyers might have gone rogue on the Patriots' final play call, Jones' instincts and situational awareness speak volumes to the team's preparation under Josh McDaniels. The veteran not only understood the situation when he stepped in front of a lateral intended for Patriots quarterback Mac Jones, but he displayed enough awareness to reverse field and attempt to score with the clock hitting "triple zeroes" in the middle of the play.
Jones' nasty stiff-arm on the way to the end zone showcased his ability to turn practice drills into a game reality. With Jones picking up a convoy on the way to the end zone, the entire defense was alert and ready to respond to a sudden change situation that resulted in a walk-off win.
Derek Carr comes up big in the clutch
Lost in the dramatic win was No. 4's impressive play down the stretch. Derek Carr rallied the Raiders from a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter with a spectacular two-minute drive that showcased his composure, poise and clutch playmaking ability.
In leading the Raiders to a game-tying score with 32 seconds left on the clock, the veteran completed five of his last six passes for 81 yards and a score. The veteran came up big when it counted against the Patriots. He found Mack Hollins on back-to-back throws to get into a groove before hitting Keelan Cole with a rainbow toss in the end zone to tie the score.
Great players find a way to get it done in adverse situations. Carr rallied the squad back after tossing an interception that helped the Raiders squander a double-digit in the second half. Moreover, the veteran shook off three straight incompletions on the Raiders' final drive before heating up down the stretch. The gunslinger's grit, determination and resilience speak volumes about his leadership skills.
Given the impact of quarterback play on the outcome of games, Carr always gives the Raiders a "puncher's chance" due to his ability to make clutch plays with the game on the line.
The defense takes one on the chin
Stopping the run is the No. 1 priority of every defensive coordinator around the league. Despite the league-wide shift to a more pass-centric approach, the key to winning games is forcing opponents to utilize one-dimensional gameplans with the running game eliminated from the equation.
Against the Patriots, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham could not find a solution to the Rhamondre Stevenson problem. The Patriots' RB1 rumbled for 172 yards and a score on 19 rush attempts. The second-year pro did most of his damage between the tackles on an assortment of power runs that tested the Raiders' frontline's physicality, toughness and discipline.
The lack of gap integrity enabled Stevenson to slip through creases, and some missed tackling turned four-yard runs into chain-moving plays. Although the Raiders were able to scratch out a win while surrendering 200-plus rushing yards, the defense must find solutions to their running game woes.
With games against the Pittsburgh Steelers (Najee Harris), San Francisco 49ers (Christian McCaffrey) and Kansas City Chiefs (Isiah Pacheco) on the horizon, the Raiders' run defense will be tested early and often. How well the frontline responds could determine how the Raiders' season ends.