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The Raiders Needed Only Five Shots at the End Zone to Keep Their Season Alive

A bizarre ending gave Oakland a much-needed win over Kansas City

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Derek Carr threw three touchdowns in less than 30 seconds to pull the Raiders over the Chiefs Thursday night and keep Oakland’s playoff hopes alive.

OK, so only one of those touchdowns counted. That didn’t make the play-by-play that led to the Raiders’ improbable 31-30 win any less mind-boggling.

It began on a 28-yard toss on third-and-10 from Carr to Jared Cook. The tight end elevated above three Chiefs defenders and his own teammate to snag the ball in the air, twisting his way into the end zone. The play was ruled a touchdown, and all Oakland had to do was kick the extra point to go up by one.

But Cook touched down just before the ball crossed the goal line, and after a review, the officials marked him short. That review brought into play an obscure portion of the rulebook that holds that, because Cook didn’t go out of bounds and the Raiders had no timeouts remaining, the clock should have never stopped. Therefore, the officials were required to call for a 10-second runoff, giving the Raiders the ball on the 1-yard line with just eight seconds to go.

So on first-and-goal, the Raiders lined up and snapped the football as soon as they were allowed to (since the clock was set to start immediately), and Carr quickly threw another touchdown, rocketing a ball to Michael Crabtree in the right corner of the end zone. But Crabtree clearly pushed off his defender—he extended both arms—and the yellow flags came out. There were still three seconds remaining on the clock, giving the Raiders life, but now the team’s (seemingly) last chance to win would come from the 10-yard line, not the 1.

So on first-and-goal (again), Carr found Cook in the middle of the end zone, only the pass was just high and Cook couldn’t hold on. That would have given the Chiefs the win, except there was another flag—this time for defensive holding on Kansas City. NFL games cannot end on defensive penalties, even if there is no time left on the clock, so the Raiders were granted an untimed down from the 5-yard line.

So on first-and-goal (again again), Carr tried to find Cordarrelle Patterson up the seam, but a Chiefs defender was draped all over him—and so another flag, and another untimed down, this time from the 2.

So on first-and-goal (again again again), Carr rolled to his left and found Crabtree near the pylon. And this time, there were no flags, and the Raiders and Chiefs’ near-eternal struggle involving first-and-goals from various yard lines was, finally … almost over.

Giorgio Tavecchio, who had already missed two field goals on the night, needed to boot through an extra point to win the game for Oakland. His kick drifted to the right, but ultimately squeaked just in, moving the Raiders to 3-4 and keeping the team in the playoff hunt.

Oakland was a popular pick to regress in the preseason, and regress they have thus far. It only took the team six weeks to earn the same number of losses (4) as it did all of last year. After their 2-4 start put the Raiders three games back in the division, it looked like Oakland was well on its way to spending the postseason at home.

The win will not only keep the team alive, but give them several highlights to build off of—even in a game that saw Marshawn Lynch ejected after he put a hand on an official. Amari Cooper, who up until this point had generated discussion only for his many drops on the season, finally broke out, catching 11 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns.

Eighteen days after it looked like Carr could miss as many as six weeks with a fractured back, Oakland’s franchise passer amassed 417 yards and three touchdowns (these three all counted) to go with a 101.2 passer rating. And Khalil Mack and the Raiders’ defensive line put pressure on Alex Smith from the jump, including a sack with 2:38 to go that forced a punt and gave Carr the chance to mount that game-winning drive.

The Raiders still have plenty of problems—their secondary, in particular, showed lapses in coverage all night, allowing Smith to throw for 342 yards and three touchdowns on just 36 pass attempts. But for now, the Raiders have bought themselves time to figure those problems out. All it took was five shots at the end zone.