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Graney: Raiders’ improbable season continues with playoff berth

Well, how else did you expect such a game to end in this crazy and dramatic and altogether unpredictable season?

When it was over, when 17 games that seemed like 34 concluded, we were left with this truth: The improbable occurred.

The Raiders have qualified for the postseason for the second time since 2002 via a 35-32 overtime win against the Chargers on Sunday night inside a raucous Allegiant Stadium.

Next up: A wild-card playoff game at Cincinnati on Saturday afternoon.

All it took was the Raiders blowing a 15-point lead with under nine minutes remaining in regulation to make things far more interesting than they desired.

A different narrative

“We just have a relentless team that competes down in and down in and down in,” said interim head coach Rich Bisaccia. “We just find a way to win it at the end. I just know our guys believe in each other. They don’t break. They don’t blink.”

It really is the stuff of a storybook journey, but not in any standard way of scripting such a narrative. Because you can’t predict the Jon Gruden resignation or the Henry Ruggs arrest or the Damon Arnette viral video. You can’t forecast major changes within the organization’s front office or key injuries.

But the Raiders move forward now winners of four straight and playing with enough house money to fill all of Summerlin and Henderson combined.

They got here this past month riding atop the sturdy shoulders of a defense that while bending at times, never did break. But it did Sunday in the most stunning of ways, allowing the Justin Herbert-led Chargers to produce consecutive scoring drives of 75 and 83 yards to close the fourth quarter and force extra time.

The scenario had been talked about for days, that if the game ended in a tie, both the Raiders and Chargers would be playoff bound. In the end, however, Daniel Carlson would kick his fifth game-winning field goal of the season — this from 47 yards — with no time remaining to deny the Chargers their own postseason berth.

It was the sixth walk-off victory for the Raiders this season. Six.

“I could talk all day,” said defensive end Maxx Crosby, who played to his Pro Bowl level. “We’ve had so many ups and downs all season. It’s one of the most stressed games I’ve ever played. It was ugly but we got the win. That’s all that matters.”

Maybe the one player who will deservedly soak this in the most is quarterback Derek Carr, whose eight-year run as a starter included just one playoff berth before now. He was injured and unable to play in that game.

But questions have persisted for some time about his future with the Raiders. Such talks can wait for now. There is at least one more game — a playoff game, no less — to be contested.

Carr, by the way, led the 30th game-winning drive of his career Sunday.

Not done yet

“Once I get some sleep and wake up in the morning, maybe it will hit me then,” he said. “I just have this weird feeling in my heart that the job is not done. It feels good. It’s exciting.

“It feels cool. It’s awesome. This is one of our goals but there are more after them.”

A month ago, no one outside those silver and black walls could have imagined or believed it.

Improbable when the Raiders had lost five-of-six? Definitely.

An earned playoff berth? Absolutely.

A crazy and dramatic and unpredictable season? All of the above.

On a night when the late John Madden was honored beforehand as his family lit the Al Davis Memorial torch before kickoff, the Raiders won the most bizarre of games and made the playoffs.

That sound you hear is his cruiser honking.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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