On Sunday, the NFL honored the late John Madden, the legendary Raiders coach, ground-breaking TV broadcaster and video game icon who died last Tuesday at the age of 85. Video tributes of the Hall of Famer were played at stadiums before kickoff around the league.
In Indianapolis, the Raiders honored the greatest coach in team history the best way they could — with a victory.
The 23-20 road win against the Colts wasn’t the prettiest or most perfect display of football, but it was hard-fought and full of heart, qualities that Madden’s teams in the 1970s prided themselves on. The Raiders relied on grit and determination to contain Jonathan Taylor, the NFL’s leading rusher, and to grind out 10 fourth-quarter points, the final three on Daniel Carlson’s game-winning 33-yard field goal as time expired.
The victory sets up a delicious Week 18 matchup with the Chargers, who sit just ahead of the Raiders in the AFC’s final wild-card spot thanks to a 34-13 blowout of the Broncos. The winner of Sunday night’s showdown in Las Vegas advances to the postseason.
The fact the Raiders have put themselves in a winner-take-all situation is already an accomplishment. Just four Sundays ago, they suffered a humiliating 48-9 defeat in Kansas City that was made worse by their misguided pregame stomping of the Chiefs logo. With the Raiders slipping to 6-7, interim head coach Rich Bisaccia seemingly had taken this team — which had to overcome the abrupt departures of Jon Gruden and Henry Ruggs III — as far as he could.
Since then, the Raiders have entered every game needing a win to remain in playoff contention. Surprisingly, they’ve succeeded each time, beating teams that are also fighting to make the postseason — Browns in Cleveland, Broncos at home and now the Colts in Indy — for a most-unexpected three-game win streak.
“We like to think that we’re a team that cares about each other,” Bisaccia said. “We’re a team that knows what to do and does what we know. And then we’re a team that’s going to compete with relentless effort, from start to finish. Sometimes it’s going to go your way, and sometimes it doesn’t. But I think if you can look at the way we just keep battling and battling and battling — I think the last two weeks, maybe the last three weeks — we’ve improved as the game has gone on as well.”
Without Gruden calling plays, the Raiders have averaged just 16.9 points, a problem compounded by the absence of tight end Darren Walker, who hasn’t played since Week 12 due to a hip injury. Keeping the Raiders in games has been the defense of Gus Bradley, the former Chargers defensive coordinator who has brought stability to a unit that for years offered little resistance. Some of his old Chargers players have thrived in Las Vegas, namely cornerback Casey Hayward and linebacker Denzel Perryman, the team’s leading tackler and a Pro Bowl selection.
“There’s been years in the past where, if I turned it over one time, the game might get out of hand,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “Now that our defense is playing like they are, I’ve been more aggressive, there’s no doubt. But whenever we can play complementary football, as long as we have a chance at the end of the game, we’ll always take those chances we feel good about.”
The outcome of Sunday night’s game could be pivotal in deciding the direction owner Mark Davis takes the Raiders. A victory would clinch the franchise’s first postseason berth since 2016, and the late-season run may persuade Davis to keep Bisaccia as full-time head coach. A loss would conclude a most difficult season and likely bring on a major overhaul that could end the eight-year Raiders tenure of Carr.
But first thing’s first: Win and you’re in the playoffs.
“It’s nice that it’s at home. I can’t wait to hear our fans, how loud it is on defense and how awesome that’ll be,” Carr said. “But for us, I think every game for the last month, really, has been a playoff game.”
Best offensive performance
Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, Bengals. It’s not often that you see Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs get beat at their own game, but that’s what happened in a wild 34-31 Bengals victory. Burrow and Chase were more than up to the task of matching Kansas City score for score, and they did so with such devastating ease. Burrow passed for 446 yards and four touchdowns to become the first QB ever to throw for 400 or more yards, four or more touchdowns and zero interceptions in consecutive games. Chase caught three TDs among his 11 receptions and set a team record with 266 receiving yards. By game’s end, Chiefs defenders looked helpless and frustrated. Said safety Tyrann Mathieu: “I didn’t think today was our best day.” The Bengals’ red-hot second-year QB had a different view after Cincinnati clinched the AFC North title. “That was fun,” Burrow said.
Best defensive performance
Cameron Jordan, Saints. The seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end continued his late-season tear, registering his third straight multiple-sack game with 3 1/2 in New Orleans’ 18-10 victory over Carolina. Jordan now has 11 1/2 sacks this season — 7 1/2 coming in the last three games — for his sixth double-digit sack campaign. “God has blessed me with everything, from health to vision to being able to play 11 years in this league,” Jordan said.
Best special teams performance
Evan McPherson, Bengals. The rookie kicker made the walk-off, chip-shot field goal from 20 yards that won the Bengals’ first division title since 2015. It was the fifth-round pick’s third game-winning kick of the season.
- Mark Andrews set the Ravens franchise record for most receiving yards in a season, eclipsing Michael Jackson’s 1,201 yards in 1996.
- J.C. Jackson (aka Mr. Interception) made his eighth INT of the season, giving him 25 for his career — the most by an NFL player in his first four seasons since the 1970 merger.
- Kyle Pitts surpassed Julio Jones (959) for most rookie receiving yards in Falcons franchise history. The No. 5 pick also joined Mike Ditka as the only rookie tight ends ever to record 1,000-yard seasons.
- Jonathan Taylor, at 22, became the youngest player in NFL history to post 2,000 yards or more from scrimmage and score 20 TDs or more in a single season. He also broke Edgerrin James’ team record of 1,709 rushing yards.
- Cooper Kupp, with this catch, broke the Rams single-season record of 1,781 receiving yards set by Isaac Bruce in 1995.
- Robert Quinn set a new Bears sacks record with his 18th of the season, tops in the NFL.
- Justin Herbert passed Philip Rivers for most Chargers touchdown passes in a single season, completing a 45-yard strike to Mike Williams for record-setting No. 35.
Braxton Berrios scored the first of his two first-quarter touchdowns on a very fun play call.
Admire the touch by Mac Jones on this beautiful corner fade to Jacobi Meyers for the touchdown.
A pass breakup at the goal line falls right into the hands of T.Y. Hilton for a 45-yard TD from Carson Wentz.
Boston Scott converts on fourth-and-goal with the head-first dive into the end zone.
Odell Beckham Jr., after making a clutch fourth-down grab, reaches for the pylon on the next play for the eventual winning TD.
Tom Brady caps off the Buccaneers’ winning 93-yard drive with a 33-yard TD to Cyril Grayson.
Jonathan Ward pays homage to David Tyree with his own ball-pinned-to-helmet catch.
Antoine Wesley makes an outrageous leaping grab on this 19-yard TD from Kyler Murray.
Andre Roberts helps put the Broncos away by taking this kickoff return 101 yards for the TD.
Aaron Rodgers makes throwing darts for TDs look so easy, like this 11-yarder to Davante Adams.
Garrett Bradbury does his best Franco Harris impression.