Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season was an eye-opener. We had some surprises—Josh Allen’s struggles, Houston’s competency, Green Bay’s implosion. There was also some excitement—fans back and roaring, comeback wins for Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes, star quarterbacks on fire across the league. It was enough to have football back; it was a true delight to have such good and interesting games. All Week 1 needed was a nice cherry on top from the Monday Night Football matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and Las Vegas Raiders.
I’m not exactly sure what we got. Definitely not a cherry.
It was a boring game to start. The Ravens took a 14-10 lead into the half, leaning on an explosive running game while the Raiders’ offense struggled for momentum against the Ravens’ ravenous pass rush. It looked about like pundits and fans expected it to go.
Things opened up in the second half. The teams scored a combined 30 points in the second half, with scores on the final five drives of regulation, forcing overtime. Even then, it felt like exciting football in a zany but still generally intelligible game—an appropriate Week 1 topper.
Then things went pear-shaped. If you went to sleep at halftime, I don’t blame you—I certainly thought about it. Missing out on the excitement is no fun, so I have the seven weirdest things that happened in the Ravens vs. Raiders matchup, ranked by ascending weirdness. It won’t do the game justice, but it’ll sure help around the water cooler come Tuesday morning. (Are we still doing water cooler references?)
7. Marcus Mariota cameo!
Be honest—you forgot about this, didn’t you?
It was the first drive of the game, eons ago. But Raiders backup quarterback Marcus Mariota, whom fans love to clamor for during poor Carr performances, took the first third-down snap of the game and promptly pulled a read option for a 31-yard gain.
Marcus Mariota sighting!— Pickswise (@Pickswise) September 14, 2021
Jon Gruden UNLEASHED pic.twitter.com/UFfwuJmD5Q
Mariota seemed banged up after the play and never came back into the game. But his one play almost equaled the Raiders’ entire offensive production after the first four drives of the game. Those Raider fans calling for Mariota to replace Carr by halftime fell silent by the game’s end—but I’m sure that isn’t the last we’ll be hearing from them this year.
6. The Raiders left the field.
The Raiders really relied on wide receiver Bryan Edwards down the stretch, and he delivered for them on what ended up being the game-winning touchdown catch. Let’s watch it again.
Wait … let’s run that back. Are we sure he got the ball across the goal line before his knee touched the ground?
The Raiders sure are. While this clearly close, game-deciding play went to the replay booth because it … well, it was a clearly close, game-deciding play, the Raiders just … left. They shook hands and poured into the locker room. I respect the manifesting, personally.
It didn’t work. Review put the ball on the half-yard line, pulled the Raiders out of the locker room, and cleared the field of celebrants and staff in order to resume play. There was far more tomfoolery to be had.
5. DeShon Elliott’s noggin created a game-saving interception.
There’s a lot that’s wild about this play, so let’s watch it first, and then break it down.
The first thing is that the Raiders have a third-and-goal from just outside the 5. After the review of Edwards’s catch, the Raiders had a first-and-goal from inside the 1-yard line, failed a QB sneak, and then suffered a false start from rookie RT Alex Leatherwood. So, since half of the team had to come back out of the locker room for more football, they’ve moved backward 5 yards.
The second thing is how badly the right side of the Raiders’ line blows protection on a twist from the Ravens. Rookie edge rusher Odafe Oweh (no. 99, very big, very fast) is coming straight down the barrel at Derek Carr. If Carr would have had to hold this ball for a half-second longer, Oweh would have knocked him back to Oakland.
But Carr gets rid of the ball, which hits veteran wide receiver and noted former Baltimore Raven Willie Snead IV directly in the mitts. Oweh’s pressure matters a lot here, as Carr has to release the ball early and with tons of heat, making the catch tougher (though still plenty makeable) for Snead. But it slides through Snead’s hands and smacks DeShon Elliott in the crown of the helmet.
Footballs are weird shapes. Helmets are more normal, but still definitely weird. When one weird shape careens off another weird shape, the results are unpredictable. Or, if you’re Ravens cornerback Anthony Averett, the results are eminently predictable. The ball lands in his bread basket, saving the game for the Ravens. Now all they need is a field goal to win it.
(They turned the ball back over the Raiders five plays later.)
4. The Raiders wanted to kick a long field goal on second down.
Pretend you’re Jon Gruden, just for a second. Slap your visor on and grab a quick sunburn. You’ve got the ball in a tie game, second-and-9 at the opponent’s 26-yard line, 4:30 left in overtime, and no timeouts. You’ve been gifted this second chance at victory after you failed to score from 1 yard out on the last drive; a field goal wins the game. Do you:
A. Run the football to the desired hash of your kicker, pick up a few yards, and likely run it again on third down to make the fourth-down attempt a shorter, easier kick?
B. Just run the field-goal team out right now, should be fine.
If you answered B, congratulations: You can sign a 10-year, $100 million head coaching contract in the NFL.
Gruden trotted the field goal unit out, but they were all so surprised and ill-prepared for their sudden appearance, they failed to get lined up before the clock expired, and the Raiders took a delay of game penalty. And once the field goal was lengthened by 5 yards, Gruden ran the offense back onto the field—now at second-and-14.
Now, you might be thinking to yourself: Wow, the Raiders just blew it. What a travesty. Can’t wait to see the next crazy, unfortunate thing to happen to them.
Yes to the crazy. No to the unfortunate.
3. The very next play was the easiest game-winning touchdown you’ve ever seen.
Hollywood doesn’t even draw it up like this (because it’s entirely unfeasible and flat-out bemusing). Zay Jones, the fourth receiver on the Raiders’ depth chart, is able to smoke star Ravens CB Marlon Humphrey for a game-winning touchdown. Just like we all expected.
We can all empathize with Humphrey here. He had an unbelievable game: He locked up Darren Waller, Hunter Renfrow, and Henry Ruggs III across the night, answering the varying challenges of size, route acumen, and speed with his own blend of optimal physical traits and a sharp mind for the game. Sometimes, you just run out of gas and want to go home. I certainly did.
It’s worth remarking, as a quick aside, that Humphrey’s amazing night was marred by another play, not just the one above.
2. Uh, Marlon … I think you intercepted that.
Just watch the football.
Marlon Humphrey doesn't realize that he would have had an INT LOL pic.twitter.com/JnCLzpCTnt— alex (@highlghtheaven) September 14, 2021
Sometimes, it’s that kind of night. Even the good plays are weird.
All right, time to bring this thing home the only way we know how: with Slow News Day star Eli Manning.
1. Peyton and Eli Manning might have changed the way we watch MNF?
I caught more of ESPN’s ManningCast via Twitter than the actual broadcast, but man, the clips that made it to the timeline were delightful.
Here they are mocking the failed field goal attempt/offense switch, featuring Russell Wilson.
They also had Wilson on for the aforementioned ricochet goal-line interception—a play he’s unfortunately familiar with. Here’s Peyton reacting to that play.
You wouldn’t think Derek Carr helped the Raiders win tonight the way Peyton Manning was watching him play pic.twitter.com/rSVoVQOpS9— Oluwajomiloju (@JomiAdeniran) September 14, 2021
Here’s Peyton calling a random play in a helmet that doesn’t fit while the game just kinda happens in the background?
Nobody analyzes the game like Peyton— NFL (@NFL) September 14, 2021
Manning brothers are live right now on ESPN2, ESPN+ & the NFL app pic.twitter.com/aD4pD0Seyd
And here’s Eli’s fire alarm going off!
Fire alarm went off at Eli Manning’s place during Monday Night Football.— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) September 14, 2021
Big brother Peyton: “Eli what’d you do?” pic.twitter.com/adBTuF0ye4
The best part? All of this was happening on ESPN2 while Brian Griese and Louis Riddick were doing their darndest to retain the gravitas of a NFL broadcasting booth one channel over. The Manning brothers’ broadcast, unfortunately, matched the tone of the game a little better.
All that’s left to say about the debacle of footballing that ensued in Allegiant Stadium’s first fan-viewed game is a solemn prayer: Lord, please let whatever just happened in Vegas, stay in Vegas.