In a rollercoaster season full of unpredictable events within the Las Vegas Raiders organization, the bottom line is that this team still won 10 games and went to the playoffs.
So while it hurts now for Raider fans, this season-ending 26-19 loss doesn't fully define a team that fought so hard to get to this point.
The Silver and Black had the Cincinnati Bengals on the ropes Saturday night with a chance to tie the game at the end of regulation. With one final play at the Cincinnati nine-yard line with 17 seconds to go, the Raiders could've pushed for overtime – in which they were 4-0 in this season – or even gone for two to clinch their first playoff win since 2002.
It ended with an interception.
"I just felt like it was a group of men that really learned how to care for one another," Interim Head Coach Rich Bisaccia said, reflecting on the season. "Really learned how to compete with relentless effort to the bitter end day in and day out, not only as players but as men. We just ran out of time today."
"We did some uncharacteristic things with some penalties and gave up some drives," continued Bisaccia. "Didn't capitalize when we had it in the red zone at times. Just didn't go our way today but can't say enough about the men in that locker room."
The Raiders' red zone deficiencies were a common theme throughout this season, and it once again bit them in the end. The Raiders reached the red zone five times on Saturday, leaving with just one touchdown. Derek Carr moved the ball down the field consistently but was limited by seven penalties, some key dropped passes and a stout Bengals defense. Carr finished with 310 passing yards, a 20-yard gain on the ground and a touchdown.
"The thing that I love about this team is there was never a doubt of the fight or a doubt of are we going to do this. There wasn't any doubt," said Derek Carr. "Now, it doesn't mean you're going to be perfect every time, and it sucks to come up short like this, but at the end of the day, there was never a doubt from anyone on that sideline that we weren't going to go and try to win that game."
With the game on the line, much of the Raiders' sideline was convinced that they were going to get the score. With the way things have played out this season for the time, it didn't seem unlikely. The Silver and Black picked up seven wins decided by less than a touchdown – helped by a kicker that knocked in five game-winning field goals.
The chips just didn't fall in the right place this time.
"Everyone on the sideline is like, 'Oh, we're going to score.' We believed it; we went down there," said Carr. "It just sucks when you get in that situation, you've just got to throw the ball. ... Sucks that it comes down to something like that. I wish it didn't."
Josh Jacobs also held full belief his team would score on the last drive. The running back finished his playoff debut with 83 rushing yards and 44 receiving yards. He could feel the momentum swinging his team's way – and according to him, the Bengals could as well.
"I told the [defense], 'We get the ball back, get a stop. ... We're going to win this game.' And that's just the confidence I have in the guys," Jacobs said regarding the last offensive drive. "That's the confidence I have in DC [Derek Carr], especially since you've seen through the year what we've done. I even talked to [Bengals] players after the game and they were all on the sideline like, 'Alright, here we go again.' So even they were kind of on the fringe.
"If you would've asked me, I would've bet that we would've come out with it if we're in the end that way. It was a hell of an effort. We got all the way down there to the red zone and it came down to the last play. Obviously, you're disappointed because it didn't go how you wanted to, but I'm not mad at the effort and the fight that the guys showed."
It can be argued that no defensive player on the Raiders defense showed more "effort and fight" Saturday than Maxx Crosby. He completed his Pro Bowl breakout season with a masterful playoff debut, bringing pressure any way he could. The edge rusher finished the game with six total tackles, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits and one sack.
"We felt like we should've won the game," Crosby said with disappointment after the game. "We had a lot of opportunities. I'm just so proud of this team, man. We have so many guys that just fought and bought into what Coach Rich gave us. Coach Marinelli, Coach Bradley, Oly [Greg Olson], everybody – they stuck with us and we stuck with them. We just came up a little bit short. It's tough but I just know we'll be back. We'll be back and we'll have another opportunity."
Despite the way the season ended for Crosby and his team, the third-year player, now coming into his own, is already excited to keep pushing the bar forward next season.
"I think we have a really good team, said Crosby. "We have guys who at the end of the day, love football. We've got a bunch of dogs, guys that don't give up on each other. We have core pieces that are great players.
"I'll never take any of those moments for granted because I had so much fun this year and it sucks it's over."
They say "Don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened," and that's a fitting way to sum up the 2021 Las Vegas Raiders. Through trials, tribulations, controversy and injuries – this was still a 10-win team that clinched their first playoff berth since 2016: And they were one drive away from a making a run in the postseason.
And that's something Raider Nation should be proud of.
View photos from the Raiders' wild-card matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.