Each of the Raiders’ first three games has essentially come down to one final play at the end. All of them have gone against them, which is how a team with high expectations becomes the NFL’s only 0-3 team.
There is such a thin line between victory and defeat in the NFL, a lesson the Raiders are learning all too well this season.
It’s certainly a regression to the mean after last year’s 7-1 record in games decided by six points or less. That team set an NFL record for most walkoff wins in a season with five.
The breaks at the end of the game are certainly falling the other way this season, but the Raiders know there are plays throughout a game that can determine the outcome just as much as the final snap.
“The margin is slim; we know that,” coach Josh McDaniels said. “We all know we’ve done things that we can improve on, starting with me, and that’s really what we can focus on.”
Here’s a look at key moments in which each of the first three games could have swung on the final sequence and earlier:
Chargers 24, Raiders 19
The obvious: The Raiders got the ball with 3:30 to play and trailing by five, needing a touchdown to take the lead. Derek Carr was sacked on third and fourth down to stifle what could have been a game-winning drive.
Earlier: With the score tied 3-3 in the second quarter, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert fell to the turf short of the marker on a third-down play, but Nate Hobbs hit him as he went to the ground and was called for a personal foul. Instead of a field goal or a fourth-down attempt, the drive remained alive and resulted in a touchdown.
The Chargers led 17-10 in the third quarter when Maxx Crosby came around the right side of the offensive line and hit Herbert just as he started his throwing motion. The ball trickled away and could have been a fumble had he hit him a split-second earlier or even in a different spot. Instead, it was an incompletion. On the the next play, Herbert found Gerald Everett for a touchdown to extend the lead to 24-10.
Carr led the Raiders down the field on the ensuing drive to set up a first-and-10 at the Chargers’ 25-yard line. McDaniels called for a reverse pass only to have Davante Adams get sacked for a 10-yard loss that crushed the momentum of the possession. Three plays later, the Raiders settled for a field goal.
Cardinals 29, Raiders 23 (OT)
The obvious: The Raiders needed a field goal to win and were on the verge of Daniel Carlson’s range at Allegiant Stadium, where he has never missed. But he never got a chance, as Hunter Renfrow’s fumble was returned 59 yards for a touchdown by the Cardinals’ Byron Murphy Jr.
Earlier: The Raiders dominated for more than three quarters and got a fourth-down stop deep in their own territory with 12:31 to play, but Carr threw three straight incompletions, giving the ball back to Arizona.
The possession lasted less than 30 seconds, putting an exhausted defense right back on the field. The Cardinals took advantage with eight points on the possession, cutting the deficit to 23-15.
After another offensive possession stalled for the Raiders, Arizona got one final chance, needing eight points to tie. On a fourth-and-1, Crosby had Kyler Murray dead to rights in the backfield, but the elusive quarterback escaped and ran for a first down.
Once the Cardinals got inside the 5-yard line, Murray’s attempted underhand throw bounced off his target’s hands and into the air. Raiders linebacker Jayon Brown almost intercepted the ball on a dive before it touched the ground. The Raiders got a fourth-down stop, but were called for a holding penalty far away from the play. Even then, Johnathan Abram almost had an interception on second down. But the Cardinals got the touchdown and converted another two-point conversion to force overtime.
Titans 24, Raiders 22
The obvious: Mack Hollins fought off a defender and hauled in a jump ball in the end zone for a touchdown in the final minute, but a two-point conversion pass was batted down. The Raiders didn’t recover an onside kick, and the game was over.
Earlier: The Raiders got the ball with 1:02 left in the first half, trailing 21-10. They tried to go hurry-up after a first-down completion, but an incomplete pass and a sack forced a punt, which was returned for 20 yards. That allowed the Titans to essentially steal three points just before halftime.
In the fourth quarter, with the Raiders trailing 24-13, Carr found tight end Darren Waller in traffic at the goal line on a third-down play only to have the ball hit his hands and into the air for an interception.
Who: Broncos at Raiders
When: 1:25 p.m. Sunday
Where: Allegiant Stadium
Radio: KRLV-AM (920), KOMP-FM (92.3)
Line: Raiders -3; total 45½