Much has been said and written, and will be said and written, about the closing moments of Sunday night’s unprecedented regular-season finale on which the fate of three franchises rode. The biggest question will be whether, but for Chargers coach Brandon Staley’s decision to take a timeout with 38 seconds on the clock, the Raiders would have been content to run one more play and take a playoff-clinching tie.
“It was [a] conversation,” coach Rich Bisaccia told reporters after the 35-32 overtime win. “We were talking about it. . . . We ran the ball there, and they didn’t call a timeout. So I think they were probably thinking the same thing. And then we had the big run. When we got the big run, it got us in advantageous field goal position. . . . We were certainly talking about it on the sideline. We wanted to see if they were gonna take a timeout or not on that run. They didn’t, so we thought they were thinking the same thing. And then we popped the run in there and gave us a chance to kick the field goal to win it. So, we were certainly talking about it.”
It was smart to think about it. The choice was hardly between a tie (and a trip to Kansas City) or a win (and a game at Cincinnati). The effort to advance the ball toward a game-winning score carried an element of risk that could have resulted in a loss. Pick six. Fumble. Blocked field goal returned for a touchdown. Any of those would have meant Chargers in, Steelers in, Raiders out.
Indeed, even with two seconds on the clock and a 47-yard field goal on the table, an unconditional commitment to analytics would have favored taking a knee. Why? Taking the tie entailed a 100-percent chance of getting to the playoffs. Kicking the field goal introduced a risk, however slight it may have been, of a block, a scoop, a score, and no postseason at all for the Raiders.
Many have assumed that the Raiders should have wanted to win in order to secure a more favorable game against the Bengals, whereas a tie would have resulted in a game against the Chiefs. Beyond the fact that the Raiders know the Chiefs much better (and also lost to the Bengals at home, 32-13, during the regular season), a tie would have given the Raiders another day, with Cincinnati hosting a game on Saturday afternoon and Kansas City hosting its game on Sunday night.
One more day. To prepare. To rest. To recover.
One more day for Josh Jacobs‘s sore ribs. For Darren Waller‘s bad knee. One more day to recover from an unexpected but entirely possibly COVID diagnosis. (Then again, one more day to catch COVID.)
Here’s another factor, one that favors taking the win. The higher seed (No. 5 vs. No. 7) gives the Raiders a chance at hosting a divisional-round game, if the Steelers beat the Chiefs and the Patriots beat the Bills. The Raiders also could host the AFC Championship, if the Steelers beat the Titans and the Raiders beat the Patriots.
The bottom line is that, yes, the Raiders were considering taking the tie. A clear vibe was developing toward that end. The timeout operated as a reset button of sorts, disrupting the momentum that was pointing toward both teams getting in.
We’ll never know whether the Raiders would have been better off waiting a day to face the Chiefs. We do know that Bisaccia faced a decision that never before had landed on any coach’s radar. There was and is no clear right or wrong answer. But if they lose to the Bengals and if the Chiefs are flat or lifeless on Sunday night — or if the Steelers somehow pull off the upset — some will be wondering whether the Raiders would have been better off with one more day and a different opponent.