The Las Vegas Raiders keep living the same nightmare. Build a lead. Squander lead. Suffer dramatic loss.
Thursday night's epic 17-16 loss to the Los Angeles Rams marked the fourth game of the season the Raiders lost after building a 13-plus point lead.
"We had every opportunity to close this game out, and we didn't," star edge rusher Maxx Crosby said at his locker. "Just sick about it. It's tough. You know, we played good football for most of the game. We just didn't close the game. And it's happened before. It's unfortunate. We have work to do. As simple as that. It sucks because when you're in the game you feel like you've done enough to finish it and then we just keep giving them chances. It's all self-inflicted s---. So, that's what makes it hard. It is what it is. Obviously, it sucks. I just feel bad for the fans."
Vegas marched 75 yards in 12 plays on the opening drive for a touchdown. Facing a Rams squad missing a flock of players and playing a quarterback, Baker Mayfield, who had been on the team less than two days, it felt like a rout should ensue.
Instead, the Raiders never reached the end zone again.
They settled for back-to-back field goals, and Derek Carr threw a ghastly interception in the end zone. Vegas led 13-3 at halftime. The lead should have been bigger.
"This is the National Football League. If you let them hang around long enough, it comes down to one possession, a couple plays and who makes them," coach Josh McDaniels said, via the team's official website. "This isn't an offense, defense or special teams thing. It's a team thing. We've got to be able to extend a lead if we have one and keep competing."
McDaniels coached conservatively, like he believed a 10-point lead was plenty to win. And the Raiders offense went in the tank in the second half, going three-and-out twice to start the third frame and collecting a field goal on its third drive despite gaining possession at midfield.
Then the defense let Mayfield and the Rams offense begin to cook.
Vegas had multiple chances to get off the field. The Rams lined up to punt with 11:02 left on a fourth-and-3, but Clelin Ferrell jumped offsides, giving L.A. new life. The Rams used the opportunity to reel off a 17-play, 74-yard touchdown drive that milked 9:01 off the clock.
A bad three-and-out then set up Mayfield's miraculous 98-yard TD drive.
More self-inflicted wounds killed the Raiders on the final drive. A pass interference penalty wiped out a game-ending interception. The next play, Crosby and Chandler Jones sacked Mayfield, but Jerry Tillery stupidly knocked the ball out of the quarterback's hand after the play, leading to a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The boneheaded move not only gave the Rams 15 yards, but it also stopped the clock.
Mayfield made a couple of dynamic throws to get the Rams to the 23-yard-line. Following a spike to stop the clock, the Raiders inexplicably lined up in press-man coverage, which gave the QB a one-on-one on the outside for a 23-yard hookup with Van Jefferson to score the game-winning touchdown.
Even Mayfield was stunned the Raiders lined up in press.
"To be honest with you, I was completely shocked they lined up in press coverage with 15 seconds," the QB said on the Prime Video postgame show. "I really thought they were going to try to pop out and play zone, but they just stayed with it, and I saw the weak-side safety stay down. Van's a great go-ball runner. Go up and get it. And he won off the line and did a good job."
Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham will have to explain playing that coverage. The Raiders knew L.A. needed to take shots with 15 seconds left. Leaving a corner in single coverage is inviting disaster. Mayfield might have only been with the Rams for two days, but he isn't some undrafted rookie with a noodle arm. He's a former No. 1 overall pick who wants to throw a deep ball. The Raiders basically handed him the ideal situation.
"It's 60 minutes. Everybody will point to the last play or the last four plays or the last drive, what have you, but there's plays in every quarter that could have helped us extend the lead," McDaniels said. "There are things we could have done in all three phases that would've put us further ahead in games. There's a lot of things that go into a result in the National Football League. … These are hard lessons to learn, they are."
The Raiders have learned "hard lessons" a lot this season.
They've blown leads, got shut out by a four-win New Orleans Saints team, lost to a Colts team at home with a coach who days before was in a broadcast studio, and now a quarterback with a new club for two days.
McDaniels might not get fired after one year, but changes must come this offseason. The defensive coaching staff could be the sacrificial lamb.
After each collapse, the Raiders insist they're a different team than years past. Then they repeat the same nightmare mistakes every week. Insanity.