LAS VEGAS — With 3:15 left in Sunday night’s game and his team down eight points, Las Vegas Raiders coach Josh McDaniels made the terrible decision to kick a field goal rather than go for it on fourth-and-5 from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 29-yard line.
Luckily, the Steelers’ DeMarvin Leal was called for a leverage penalty and the Raiders took the three points off the board and got the ball back. Three plays later, it was fourth-and-4 at the 8-yard line with 2:25 left and …
McDaniels made an even worse decision.
He decided to kick the field goal again. Daniel Carlson nailed it, as he is wont to do, and the Raiders went on to lose their home opener, 23-18, to the Steelers.
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McDaniels has Davante Adams, the best receiver in football, Josh Jacobs, the league’s leading rusher a year ago, and Jimmy Garoppolo, his handpicked quarterback. And he has quite a resume as a six-time Super Bowl-winning assistant with the New England Patriots. But he didn’t have one play he liked there.
McDaniels didn’t have any confidence in his offense.
Since the 2-point conversion was adopted in 1994, the Raiders are the only NFL team to attempt a field goal in the last 3:00 of the 4th quarter when down by exactly 8 points with less than 5 yards to go for a first down (or TD).
— OptaSTATS (@OptaSTATS) September 25, 2023
Instead, he hoped that his defense could get a stop and that he would use his three timeouts to get the ball back. But on, third-and-2 on the Steelers’ ensuing possession, Raiders safeties Nate Hobbs and Marcus Epps were confused as to who was covering Allen Robinson II and he grabbed a 6-yard pass from Kenny Pickett for a first down.
Big 1st down conversion for the @steelers as the clock winds down⏰
— NFL (@NFL) September 25, 2023
The Raiders did get the ball back with 12 seconds left at their own 15-yard line, but desperate times call for desperate passes and Garoppolo sailed his third interception of the night. Half of the fans at Allegiant Stadium were thrilled.
After the game, McDaniels did not agree that he lacked confidence in his offense.
“No,” McDaniels said. “You’re going to need another possession anyway, you know what I mean. It’s not a lack of confidence. We went for it multiple times.”
You’re going to need two possessions to win the game, but only one to keep the game from being over. Worst-case scenario, the Raiders don’t convert the fourth down and the Steelers have the ball backed up at the 8-yard line with three timeout calls coming.
Best-case scenario, Adams makes his 14th catch of the game and then maybe his 15th, and the game is tied up.
Instead of putting the game in his or Jacobs’ hands (dump-off pass?), McDaniels put it in the hands of Hobbs and Epps. And I like Hobbs and Epps more than a lot of the defensive players on this team, but that’s not a wise trade-off.
And to hear McDaniels talk about it, it didn’t seem like a tough decision.
“You have two choices there,” McDaniels said. “You try to make it a five-point game where you have a chance to win it with a touchdown if you get the ball back, or you go for it there and if you happen to convert then you have to make the two-point conversion.”
It would have taken a lot, no doubt, and maybe McDaniels didn’t like the odds of an all-or-nothing play with the game on the line. After all, Garoppolo was taking a beating as the offensive line added pass-blocking to its run-blocking woes. And Garoppolo was making some really bad throws even when he had time. On his second interception, he just threw it up for Jakobi Meyers, who had two defenders on him, and Patrick Peterson caught it in a jog like he and Garoppolo were playing catch in the park.
— NFL (@NFL) September 25, 2023
Maybe McDaniels was afraid of the crowd noise. Twice, the visiting Steelers fans were so loud that the offense was called for pre-snap penalties. It was so bad that when Garoppolo took a helmet-to-helmet shot on a blitz and the Steelers were called for a penalty, the boos were among the loudest of the night at Mark Davis’ $2 billion Allegiant Stadium.
The Raiders did go for it on fourth down twice earlier in the game, McDaniels was right, but I don’t know what that has to do with kicking a field goal to pull within five points. When the best players on your team (with the exception of Maxx Crosby) control their own destinies.
Adams was asked about kicking the field goal that late in the game and he is no dummy. He didn’t touch it. Shouldn’t touch it. His job is not to question play calling.
But he talked about the loss. And how the team is still trying to find ways to win after they took all those lumps last season. The Steelers came into the game with the worst offense in football and led 23-7 in the third quarter. In a game where McDaniels had promised “electricity.” That gets lost in all the talk about going for a field goal down eight.
“We have to stop putting ourselves in all these tough-to-overcome situations,” Adams said. “We have to take care of the ball. … All these analytics and these things about teams winning the turnover battle and they don’t mean s— until you go out there and play ball. We’re having a tough time consistently doing that right now.”
Adams is 30 and he wants to win a Super Bowl ring. He thought that window was closing in Green Bay and that’s why he came to Las Vegas. But that window has been hard to open, with all the close losses last season, the falling out between Derek Carr and the Raiders brass, and now a lot of new players in what was a ho-hum offseason.
“I don’t want to act like it’s all crazy … it’s Week 3 … but I don’t got time to be waiting around,” Adams said. “It’s not a personal thing — well, it is a personal thing. It ain’t just about me but it’s not my mentality to sit here and take all season to try to figure it out.
“We’re not doing things the right way to establish a winning culture early in the season and we have to do something to turn it around.”
Garoppolo didn’t talk to reporters because he was being evaluated for a possible concussion. Jacobs said he agreed with McDaniels’ decision and that he had “faith” in the defense.
Having faith is a beautiful thing. But when you look at the worst-case scenarios for going for it and settling for the field goal, it is clear that McDaniels didn’t have faith in his offensive line, Garoppolo, Jacobs and the best receiver in the game to gain 4 yards with his favorite play in his playbook. And that might be more concerning than the lack of impact from this year’s free-agent signings or draft picks, the lack of a running game or a pass rush or a defensive turnover, or the team’s 1-2 start.
(Top photo of Josh McDaniels: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
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