What if they tie? It was a question uttered in subtle whispers to open the week leading up to the final game of the final Sunday of the 2021 NFL regular season, a divisional matchup between the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders.
It grew louder over the course of the week, evolving into a fun, harmless theory—the final far-fetched potential playoff cleanup scenario ideal for both teams should align. A tie game, in the right situation, would mean that both the Chargers and Raiders would make the playoffs.
What if they tie? The question became louder as Sunday’s action proceeded with a series of unexpected, unbelievable results, which brought about the exact conditions to pave the way for a tie-game scenario.
In the opening window of Sunday’s games, the Jacksonville Jaguars went out and completely dominated the Indianapolis Colts, opening the door for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, teams with less than a 10 percent chance of making the playoffs in Sunday’s matchup. entered together.
But after a thrilling overtime win over the Ravens for Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, Pittsburgh’s hopes jumped to 99 percent. At this point, all that stood between Big Ben and the playoffs was one game: Chargers vs. Raiders. And the only outcome that will put the Steelers off? a tie.
What if they actually tie? The stage was set for both the Chargers and Raiders to simply kneel and go hand-in-hand later in the season until either team went on to win. The situation still felt extremely unlikely, as the Chargers were down 29-14 with only five minutes left in regulation.
Then the impossible happened. A wild run of fourth-down conversions got the Chargers back in the game and tied things up with only seconds to send them into overtime.
It was chaos, and it was beautiful.
Justin Herbert in fourth place generated a +18.8 pass EPA, the most in a game in the NGS era (since 2016).
Herbert on 4th Down (Week 18)
6/6, 106 yards, TD
+18.8 Pass EPA
+40.5% CPOE#LACvsLV , #boltup pic.twitter.com/G9LJxpvTdf
— Next Generation Stats (@NextGenStats) 10 January 2022
Wait, could they really tie up? As we entered overtime in the stalemate at 29-29, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert’s fourth-down heroic game was the story of the game, leaving game watchers and those involved wondering what could be the most chaotic ending possible. .
“Yeah, it was a conversation,” Raiders coach Rich Bascia said after the game, when asked about the tie scenario. “We ran the ball over there [on second down of the Raiders’ final possession] And they didn’t say timeout. So, I guess they were probably thinking the same thing. And then we had the big run there, and when we got the big run, it got us into a field goal position advantageous for us, we were going to take the field goal and try to win it.
“But we certainly talked about it on the sidelines.”
That’s when Chargers head coach Brandon Staley called a timeout, and all hell broke loose.
“We wanted to see if they were going to call a timeout at that point,” Basacia said. “They didn’t, so we thought they were thinking the same way, and then we ran there giving us a chance to kick the field goal to win it.”
The timeout call with 38 seconds went into an overtime period that escalated to a next-score-win situation after both teams scored a field goal on their first OT property. Staley’s time ran out as the Raiders looked like they were going for another third-down run. The timeout call prompted the Raiders to change their formation before successfully driving the ball into a more comfortable field-goal zone.
“We needed to get into the right grouping. We thought they were going to run the ball, so we wanted to get our best 11-man run defense, make that replacement so we could have a game where we went deep.” You can score a field goal,” Staley said.
“I don’t think it changed their mindset because they were going to run the ball on the first game and then they run the ball in the very next game,” he continued after a follow-up question. “So we wanted to make sure we got our run defense there and we obviously didn’t execute well, but we wanted to get our premium one-back run defense here and that’s what we did.”
Asked if any part of his motivation was to save time on the clock in case the Raiders missed their field goal attempt, thus giving the ball to the Chargers, Staley said: “My mindset is to keep the field as long as possible. Had to score a goal.”
Now we know for sure that Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson split 47 yards with two seconds, winning the game for Vegas and sending Chargers fans packing — and questioning everything.
And while we may never know for sure how that timeout call changed the outcome of the game – were the Raiders content to run the clock for a tie? – Post-game comments were revealing, except for Staley.
To a post-game question by NBC’s Michelle Tafoya about how the timeout shifted Vegas’ strategy, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said, “It certainly did, obviously,” before clarifying that the team didn’t want to end the game with a tie,
“But we knew, no matter what, we didn’t want a tie. We wanted to win a football game. Obviously, if you tie you’re in and I think those are all things, but the whole My mindset on the day…was to make sure we’re the only team to go on after this,” he said.
As for Herbert? Well, that was all of us:
Justin Herbert: “I’ve never wanted a tie so bad.”pic.twitter.com/Q8MmPt70kL
— Dove Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) 10 January 2022
In a season filled with equality and wild plays and walk-off victories, the Chargers and Raiders gave us a grand finale that certainly deserved its title.