LAS VEGAS — The Las Vegas Raiders used to win these kinds of white-knuckle games.
Instead, Hunter Renfrow was a solitary figure at his locker on Sunday, head in his hands as tight end Foster Moreau stopped by with an encouraging word, followed by quarterback Derek Carr.
And as down as Renfrow, whose fumble led to a scoop and walk-off 59-yard score for the Arizona Cardinals in a 29-23 overtime loss, was, his teammates were in just as much shock.
How could they have blown a 20-0 halftime lead, the biggest blown lead in franchise history, to fall to 0-2 with a trip to the Tennessee Titans up next?
Indeed, after an NFL record six walk-off wins last season that got the Raiders into the playoffs for just the second time since 2002, karma came calling. And not just Sunday against the Cardinals. It happened last week in Los Angeles, when the Raiders were poised to pull out a win at the Chargers before Khalil Mack, and reality, smacked them in the face, stopping the Raiders’ potential go-ahead drive in a 24-19 Las Vegas defeat.
And even in that playoff game in January, the Raiders seemed ready to complete the comeback at the Cincinnati Bengals before Carr was picked off two yards shy of the end zone in a 26-19 loss.
“It sucks,” said Raiders Pro Bowl defensive end Maxx Crosby, who got his first sack of the season in taking down Kyler Murray. “I never want to lose, in general, so, yeah, it hurts. Especially in that fashion. I still don’t even understand how we lost.”
Consider: Las Vegas was dominant in the first half, when the Raiders gained 258 yards on 38 plays and had 15 first downs on four drives.
And as the Raiders’ offense went to sleep 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, Murray in particular, woke up.
“You have to maintain the ability to be aggressive,” coach Josh McDaniels said Monday. “We have to learn to play aggressively with a lead … there’s an art to learning how to finish a game the right way against an opponent who’s going to apply some pressure to try to get back into it. It is what it is. That’s going to happen in every game that you get a lead in.”
An indictment against his playcalling, or the play of Carr? You read between the lines on this small sample size.
“We’ve had two completely different scripts here in the first two weeks — we were behind at halftime by a couple of touchdowns [at the Chargers] and now we’re ahead by three [against Arizona] and we’re going to have to figure out to learn from both of those and do it better next time,” McDaniels said.
Perhaps no play Sunday, though, spoke more to the Raiders’ malaise and reversal of fortune from last season than Murray scrambling 85.69 yards (per NFL Next Gen Stats) and taking 20-plus seconds on a successful two-point conversion to get the Cardinals within 23-15 with 8:13 to play.
Cardinals QB Kyler Murray buys time in the pocket and scrambles all over the field to score a 2-point conversion with his legs.
Those were the types of inexplicable plays the Raiders were making down the stretch last season.
Running back Josh Jacobs said he could feel the momentum change, but the Raiders failed to respond.
“They make a play, you make a play,” he shrugged. “We just failed to do that.”
Las Vegas also failed to keep running the ball.
After rushing for 42 yards on 11 carries in the first half, Jacobs had just eight carries in the second half. He did not touch the ball in overtime, even as the Raiders were at the Cardinals’ 39-yard line and needed to simply milk the clock and get a few yards to get into place-kicker Daniel Carlson‘s range.
“I feel like that’s above my head,” Jacobs said when asked if the Raiders were having trouble moving the ball after halftime because of something Arizona was doing, or if the Raiders simply stopped running the ball. “It ain’t really my call to make. I just feel like I was just trying to go out there and execute what I could.”
The Raiders’ final three plays teetered between joy and terror.
First, Renfrow fumbled after an 11-yard catch-and-run, but Moreau was there to recover the ball.
One snap later, Carr threw a deep pass to receiver Davante Adams but missed him badly, with the ball somehow going through Cardinals safety Jalen Thompson‘s hands.
Then came the swift and brutal end.
Renfrow, trying for that extra yard after a 1-yard pickup on a quick pass from Carr, was leveled by linebacker Isaiah Simmons to jar the ball loose. It was picked up by cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. and returned for the game-ender.
Renfrow was evaluated for a concussion.
It was an all-time gut punch in terms of recent Raiders’ come-from-ahead losses. There with the “Fitzmagic” play by the Miami Dolphins in 2020 when Ryan Fitzpatrick, his head being twisted in “Exorcist” fashion by Arden Key, completed a deep ball with time running out to set up a game-winning field goal. And the final game in Oakland, when Carr was incorrectly ruled out of bounds on a slide 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 blowing a 21-3 lead at Buffalo earlier that season.
If it feels familiar, it also sounds the same.
“You know me — I’m optimistic,” Carr said. “This crap ain’t over. We feel crappy right now but we are still a good football team. So [I’m] making sure we keep that same mindset and not, ‘Oh, no, it’s over.'”
He was talking about this season, not the Raiders’ run of luck they created last season.