LAS VEGAS — The delirious strains of “Viva Las Vegas” were still booming through a near-empty Allegiant Stadium Sunday, players and coaches gone from the field, fans just about finished emptying the stands.
The feeling of shock, however, remained.
And it’s not going anywhere any time soon.
Kind of like the Patriots, who aren’t going anywhere either.
With a final sequence that left everyone shaking their heads with a “what the $%^& just happened” look across their stunned faces Sunday, the Patriots lost to the Raiders, a 30-24 decision that ended when Chandler Jones picked off Jakobi Meyers’s desperation lateral throw and barreled over Mac Jones with a stiff arm to make the Heisman Trophy proud, racing to the end zone for a victory as time expired.
If you have whiplash, we understand. After a spirited second-half comeback that saw the Patriots take a late fourth-quarter lead, the Raiders scored 13 points in the final 32 seconds, that game-winning TD preceded by an equally controversial (if less unusual) score, when Keelan Cole’s 30-yard touchdown grab held up under official replay review to determine if he’d stayed in bounds.
Make that under looooonnnng review, with replay officials in New York taking their sweet time in deciding that Cole had tapped his toe just inside the white border around the Raiders’ black end zone, despite a couple of angles that seemed to show otherwise.
But that TD only tied the game.
The final one, which came as the Patriots seemed safely headed for overtime, lost it.
So here are the Patriots, 7-7 after 15 weeks, left to lament their lost opportunity, left to cling to the slimmest of slim playoff hopes, left to board a long, frustrated flight home trying to figure why they keep making the same mistakes week in and week out, why, as a disconsolate Meyers would say in the locker room afterward, they are prone to bad decisions like “trying to do too much and trying to be a hero.”
Why, as the quarterback Jones would insist afterward, “It’s on me and it’s my fault,” and say that not because he’d managed only 112 yards passing on 13 completions, but because he could do nothing to stop the defensive end Chandler Jones.
“If I tackle him then we play overtime,” Mac said.
Explained Chandler: “When I caught it at first I was thinking ‘Who’s around me?’ and I felt myself stumble a little back and stiff arm, and I was thinking, ‘Who do I pitch it to?’ I was just trying to keep the ball alive and then when I stayed up I just turned my jets on and the rest was history.”
Splayed on the field, stunned by what happened, nothing left for Mac Jones to do.
“Not good enough by me,” he said. “It is what it is. Just got to do better.”
Such is the Patriot refrain, a truth that is just so odd for a franchise, and a head coach, that have prided themselves on being the driver of their own fate, of being in control and at the wheel, of being the better team by dictating action and feasting on other teams’ mistakes. Now they are the ones being flagged for too many penalties (six more Sunday), hurting themselves with overthrows and dropped passes, relying on their kicker (three more field goals for Nick Folk) or their defense (a pick-6 by Kyle Dugger) for points, or, as we will remember most of all from this debacle, making a last ditch, dumb lateral throw on a game’s final sequence.
When you play football on such a razor thin line, you are at the mercy of so many forces beyond your control. As Bill Belichick so often says, you can’t win football games until you learn to stop losing them. This season has shown us too many ways for the Patriots to lose, from officials’ calls (remember the Hunter Henry non-touchdown against the Vikings?) to self-inflicted wounds.
It’s almost funny to think back to the offseason when the NFL schedule came out, when the league made it clear they expected this one to be a barnburner. The mentor Belichick against his protege Josh McDaniels. The rebuilt and ascendant Patriots against the AFC contending Raiders. A late-season clash sure to be heavy with playoff implications, worthy of the national Sunday night spotlight.
The NFL plans, and the football gods laugh.
Instead, as the season wore on, the Pats and Raiders failed to deliver on the expectations. And on Sunday, playing in the late afternoon window after getting flexed to the earlier kickoff, they gave us more of the same. An exciting contest to be sure, with a crazy ridiculous ending, but not a game tape anyone is about to send off to Canton. Replete with penalties, rife with mistakes, and rampant with missed opportunities, what we got Sunday in the desert was a game between two middling teams, neither of which looked particularly well coached.
Right up until the end, but obvious from the start.
- Instant Analysis: What happened against the Raiders was the worst loss and the dumbest play in Patriots history
- Chad Finn: Patriots loss to Raiders was unfathomable, even as it was happening before our stunned eyes
- Patriots take a gamble on the final play — and lose everything in Las Vegas
- Inside the final play: Patriots’ Jakobi Meyers said he was just trying to improvise. It didn’t work.
- Why Raiders WR Keelan Cole’s late TD catch against the Patriots wasn’t overturned
- The interception, the stiff-arm, the celebration: Inside the biggest moment of Chandler Jones’s career