Wow! After pulling out the win in Indy this week, the Las Vegas Raiders somehow find themselves in a “win and in” scenario for the regular season finale against the Los Angeles Chargers.
The Season Is Not Over After All
So about six weeks ago, I was certain that all hope was lost, and that the Raiders’ season was essentially over. That may have been an overreaction. But, hey, that’s what this series is all about. The funny thing is that even after writing that piece, things wound up getting much worse. After that, it looked like the Raiders would need to win out to even have a chance at the postseason. Today’s win has them three-quarters of the way there with just the Chargers remaining. They could still possibly get in with a loss, but that scenario involves the Colts losing to the Jaguars next week, and that’s just not happening.
One thing that is important to remember here is that the Raiders’ win streak has come by beating three teams that were all still very much in the playoff hunt. Heck, the Colts are almost certainly going to be a playoff team anyway. These teams also have another thing in common: very good defenses. This used to be the Raiders’ kryptonite. Not this year. Now the defense is keeping games close, giving Derek Carr and co. second and third chances to win games. That’s called “complimentary football,” and it is a breath of fresh air. If it continues, we could still be watching the Raiders for the next several weeks.
Way Too Close of a Game
That was a nail biter. It should not have been one. The way that the defense played for most of the first half was dominant. That, plus strong special teams play, helped lead to great field position and ample opportunities for the Raiders offense. Those opportunities were squandered. We saw another costly third down penalty by Alex Leatherwood. Carr threw two (almost three) picks. The offense generally struggled to get a whole lot going, and that was even with a very creative game plan chock full of Marcus Mariota. To be fair, the Colts have a great defense that is loaded with talent. Still, 13 points in the first half is not enough given how much help they had from the defense and special teams.
While the offense should have pulled much further away, the defense and special teams handed the Colts opportunities to get back in the game. First, we had the Carlson shanked kickoff that gave Indy a short field late in the first half. The Colts took advantage and got a touchdown to get within three going into halftime. Then, with the Colts starting the second half off with the ball, it was the defense’s turn to make a costly mistake. Casey Hayward and Trevon Moehrig collided while attempting to intercept a Carson Wentz ‘YOLO bomb’ and tipped the ball right into T.Y. Hilton’s hands for a touchdown, giving the Colts the lead. Either player could have made the pick, but they simply did not communicate with each other.
This may seem like nitpicking given that the Raiders did just beat a playoff team. However, today’s game, like the last two, should be viewed as warning shots. Yes, they are playing better football, but the season is going to keep getting harder and the margin for error is going to keep getting slimmer. Right now, the Raiders are playing just well enough. They will need to be great if they want their season to last more than another week or two.
Hunter Freaking Renfrow
How is this guy not a Pro Bowler? He is unstoppable right now. With Darren Waller out and Henry Ruggs III awaiting sentencing, Renfrow is the only real weapon at Carr’s disposal. It’s him, a backup tight end, some running backs, and three other receivers that would be lucky to be the fourth receiver on most teams in the league. So, one would naturally think that he would receive a lot of attention from opposing defenses. He does. But, to quote Bill Murray in the film “Meatballs,” “It just doesn’t matter.” Renfrow just keeps getting open. Pro Bowler Kenny Moore was assigned to him for most of the game, frequently with help too. Renfrow made him look silly on several plays, getting acres of separation. He finished today with seven catches for 76 yards and a touchdown, although he was a fingertip away from eclipsing 100 yards and two touchdowns.
That doesn’t tell the whole story with Renfrow. Remember how I said he gets a lot of attention because it’s basically just him and Zay Jones out there? Well, all that attention on Renfrow gave Jones a ton of space to work, and he quietly had over 100 yards receiving today. Also, we have to talk about Renfrow as a punt returner. He doesn’t have blazing speed, but man is he slippery. He just snakes his way through in ways that would make the late great Ken Stabler proud. Those returns were huge in the field position battle, even if the offense ultimately failed to capitalize for the most part.
While Renfrow may not have made it to the Pro Bowl, he is certainly becoming one of the Raiders’ most valuable weapons. Once Waller returns to take some heat off him, who knows what we might see from him? Those two could make a dangerous duo at the most critical point in the season.
*Top Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images