Derek Carr and the Las Vegas Raiders went toe to toe in splitting two games with Patrick Mahomes and the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
If the Raiders want to get another chance at Kansas City in the postseason, the offense will need to maintain its high level of efficiency while getting improved play on the defensive side.
Carr threw a go-ahead TD pass to Jason Witten with 1:43 to play Sunday night, only to watch Mahomes drive down for the winning score in a 35-31 Kansas City victory that just about wrapped up the division title.
“We don’t measure the progress just in one-on-one competition with the Chiefs,” coach Jon Gruden said Monday.
“We do feel like we’re getting better. I’m excited about that. We’re missing a lot of our well-known players last night, some of the best guys that we counted on to be big time performers in this series. All I know is we’re getting a lot of contributions from a lot of people. Our quarterback is playing at a supreme level and we just got to keep getting better, keep pounding wood, keep throwing logs on the fire, and keep working.”
Despite the loss that dropped them three games behind the Chiefs, the Raiders (6-4) are still in the thick of the playoff race in the top-heavy AFC that features nine teams with at least six wins. Las Vegas is in a three-way tie with Baltimore and Miami for the third wild-card spot.
The Raiders have proven they can play with the best in the league, as evidenced by a 40-32 win at Kansas City in October and then going down to the wire in the rematch despite missing three defensive starters on the COVID-19 list and practicing most of the week without several others.
“It’s exciting because you see where we’re headed, it’s showing you a little glimpse here,” Carr said. “We’re starting to get a little healthier. We’re on our way, and it’s exciting, right? I’m excited, but today wasn’t enough.”
The passing game. Carr was nearly flawless against the Chiefs, going 23 for 31 for 275 yards and three TDs. Two of the eight incompletions were throwaways, four were on-target passes that should have been caught by Nelson Agholor and Alec Ingold, and another was an on-target pass in the end zone to Bryan Edwards that was broken up by a defender. The eighth was a desperation interception in the closing seconds.
“His confidence is on another level,” tight end Darren Waller said. “I love that he is taking chances, taking risks and standing in there and making tough throws.”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The pass rush. After getting three sacks in the first game against the Chiefs, the Raiders were unable to generate consistent pressure against Mahomes in the rematch. Las Vegas ranks 31st in the league with 11 sacks overall, tied for the third fewest for the franchise through 10 games in the Super Bowl era. Only the 2018 team (nine sacks) and 2014 (10) had fewer.
The Raiders added some potential reinforcements by claiming Takk McKinley and signing Vic Beasley to the practice squad. Both players are former first-round picks, but McKinley recently failed two team physicals.
Waller. The Raiders tight end had caught plenty of passes this season but hadn’t gotten downfield much. That began to change with a 26-yard catch on the first drive against Kansas City, and Waller was a difficult matchup all game. His seven catches were his third most this season and his 88 yards were tied for his second best. He also caught his fifth TD pass after having only three all of last season.
Johnathan Abram. The second-year safety provides energy to the defense with his aggressive approach. Sometimes that can backfire like it did on the final drive against Kansas City. Abram vacated his zone after Mahomes left the pocket, leaving Travis Kelce wide open for the go-ahead TD.
G Richie Incognito underwent season-ending foot surgery. He had been sidelined since Week 2 but the Raiders had hopes he could return. ... Las Vegas is waiting to find out whether RT Trent Brown, LB Cory Littleton, DE Clelin Ferrell or DB Lamarcus Joyner will be able to return from the COVID-19 list this week
23-37 — The Raiders have played six of their 10 games so far this season against teams that are currently 7-3 or better. The schedule gets easier down the stretch, with the final six games coming against teams with a combined 23-37 record.
The Raiders head on the road to Atlanta on Sunday. Las Vegas is 2-1 this season in the Eastern Time Zone.
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