Thanks to a 47-yard Daniel Carlson field goal as time expired overtime, the Raiders clinched a playoff berth with a 35-32 victory — in the process knocking out the Chargers — in a game which contained everything an NFL fan would need: explosive plays, a big comeback and a thrilling subplot with a playoff spot on the line.
Playing at home, the Raiders built a large lead over the first three quarters, with Josh Jacobs running for a career-high 132 yards, including a touchdown.
But despite trailing by 15 points heading into the fourth quarter, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert and the rest of his team showed their spirit to climb back into the game.
A 23-yard touchdown pass from Herbert to Josh Palmer gave the Bolts hope, and a methodical, 19-play, 83-yard drive capped by Herbert’s dagger pass to Mike Williams with time running out sent the game to overtime.
After the two teams exchanged field goals during the opening drives of overtime, Carlson’s kick with time expiring sent the Raiders to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
And for a team which has had a tumultuous season — head coach Jon Gruden resigned after reports emerged of him using homophobic, racist and misogynistic language in emails while he worked as an ESPN analyst — it is the perfect culmination for interim head coach Rich Bisaccia.
“We’ve been in this situation before … just can’t say enough about how this team prepares and going into the game and playing like that. They believe in each other when they go out there. They don’t blink.”
Clinching a spot
With the victory, the Raiders earned themselves the fifth seed in the AFC and a clash against the Cincinnati Bengals in the playoffs.
The victory also helped seal a playoff spot for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who advanced to the postseason after a wild series of events earlier in the day.
Needing an Indianapolis Colts loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars — who had lost their previous eight games — and needing to beat their division rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, away from home, Pittsburgh’s chances were slim.
However, the Jaguars dominated the Colts, winning 26-11, while the Steelers needed their own overtime field goal from Chris Boswell to beat the Ravens, 16-13.
And although there was a wild scenario where if the Chargers and the Raiders had tied, both teams would have made the playoffs and the Steelers would have missed out, Carlson’s kick meant the Steelers made it in by the skin of their teeth.
Their prize for sealing their spot on ‘Super Wild Card Weekend’ as the No. 7 seed is a trip to face the Kansas City Chiefs.
A football bonanza
The 2021 season was the first 17-game NFL season, but it is the second season with a 14-team playoff system.
With this new system, the No. 1 seeds in both the AFC and NFC conferences — the Tennessee Titans in the AFC and the Green Bay Packers in the NFC — will get a first-round bye, while the remaining 12 teams will play across the coming weekend, including a new Monday night game.
Here is a look at the schedule for ‘Super Wild Card Weekend’:
Saturday, January 15
AFC: 4:30 p.m. (ET) No. 5 Las Vegas Raiders at No. 4 Cincinnati Bengals
AFC: 8:15 p.m. (ET) No. 6 New England Patriots at No. 3 Buffalo Bills
Sunday, January 16
NFC: 1:00 p.m. (ET) No. 7 Philadelphia Eagles at No. 2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NFC: 4:30 p.m. (ET) No. 6 San Francisco 49ers at No. 3 Dallas Cowboys
AFC: 8:15 p.m. (ET) No. 7 Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 2 Kansas City Chiefs
Monday, January 17
NFC: 8:15 p.m. (ET) No. 5 Arizona Cardinals at No. 4 Los Angeles Rams