Las Vegas, NV – What happened between the Patriots and Raiders defies all logic. It can't be justified, and it's certainly difficult to explain.
Following a controversial touchdown ruling against the Patriots, running back Rhamondre Stevenson took the ball to logically run the clock out and send the game into overtime.
New England had erased a 14-point halftime deficit to lead 24-17, scoring 24 unanswered points, and the game looked over. Instead, Keelan Cole's touchdown catch stood as called on the field, and a complete mental breakdown that superseded the Miami miracle unfolded at Allegiant Stadium.
Stevenson found daylight for a moment but dangerously lateraled the ball to Jakobi Meyers, who lost all sense of the game situation and attempted a backward lateral to Mac Jones that was intercepted by Raiders defensive end, Chandler Jones.
At this point, you need to see it to believe it. Jones intercepted the lateral and ran it back for a walk-off touchdown with a final score of 30-24. After the game, Meyers said he tried to be a "hero" instead of playing it safe, while Rhamondre Stevenson echoed the same sentiment.
Although the play was unbelievable, and the players took accountability, it was a microcosm of the operation we've seen all season. You can also put the failed goal-line sequence and blocked punt before halftime into the blame pie. Why not take a knee to send the game into overtime? Also puzzling.
For a team that practiced at the University of Arizona all week, Bill Belichick's squad lacked the attention to detail of the well-oiled machine we are used to seeing, and this isn't going to silence the outside noise about a coaching staff that isn't getting through to the players often enough.
Before we turn the page to the bigger picture, the instant ramifications are that the Patriots (7-7) dropped to the eight-seed in the AFC playoff picture, a game behind the Chargers (8-6) and Dolphins (8-6). Shaking off the shock will decide the team's fate.
Here are eight observations from the Patriots stunning loss to the Raiders on Sunday in Las Vegas:
1. Powerful Play of the Game presented by Enel: Kyle Dugger's Pick-Six Gives the Patriots Life in the Third Quarter
If the Patriots completed their comeback from down two touchdowns at halftime, the turning point would've been Dugger's excellent instinctiveness to jump a quick throw by Derek Carr to walk in for a touchdown.
In the play, the Patriots were in off-coverage on the outside, where they were about to fall into a cover-three zone. But Dugger sniffed out the quick-out based on film study of the Raiders motion and alignment, knowing quarterback Derek Carr would take the "easy" completion to Adams, and jumped the pass to score the touchdown.
Unfortunately, the ending will overshadow a mostly fantastic performance by the Patriots defense.
2. Patriots Defense Throws the Kitchen Sink at Raiders WR Davante Adams
Another positive takeaway from Sunday's game was holding Raiders All-Pro receiver Davante Adams to four catches for 28 yards. For a defense that's had its struggles with covering elite receivers, the Pats used several different coverages to slow down Adams. Based on our initial viewing, the Pats played snaps of cover-two man under, doubled him on occasion, and disguised coverage towards Adams to bait Carr into throwing the ball elsewhere. Until the final offensive drive for the Raiders, the Patriots pass defense was solid, and even then it was an unlucky call that cost them.
3. Patriots Pass-Rusher Josh Uche Stays Hot With a Half-Sack and Quarterback Hit
The Patriots pass rush impacted the Raiders passing game as well with edge rusher Josh Uche igniting the defensive front and simulated pressures being the scheme du jour for the defense.
For example, the Patriots ran a replacement pressure where they drop edge defense Matthew Judon off into coverage and blitz Ja'Whaun Bnentley up the middle. Uche beats left tackle Kolton Miller with a speed rush, forcing Carr to step up in the pocket where Bentley is waiting.
From a consistency and execution standpoint, rushing the passer is the best thing that the Patriots do weekly in all three phases of the game.
4. Patriots Rush for 226 Yards on 32 Carries to Carry the Offense in Vegas
The Patriots found some success on the ground in Sunday's loss, mainly from under-center out of 12-personnel with both tight end Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith on the field. Second-year running back Rhamondre Stevenson had a game-high 172 yards on 19 carries and his 34-yard score in the fourth quarter would've been the game-winner before the collapse.
The play design was an old-school trap scheme where the Patriots went to their gap/power roots. With rookie left guard Cole Strange pulling to the play-side defensive end, the right side climbs to the second level to make the crease for Stevenson, who does the rest.
Rookie Pierre Strong was also productive on his four carries gaining 25 yards, as the Pats had a 55% success rate on the ground. Hopefully, something to build on for the final three games.
5. Patriots QB Mac Jones Struggles With Accuracy Early, But Finishes Strong
After a sporadic first half that saw several errant throws, Jones settled down a bit in the second half and made some good downfield throws to get the team back in the game. However, Mac finished the game with a completion percentage over expected of -20.4, meaning his expected completion percentage was 67%, but his actual completion rate was only 46.7. The Patriots quarterback missed some throws in this one, including a seam shot to Meyers and back-to-back throws into the flat that weren't close to open targets, which put the Patriots in an early hole.
Although it wasn't Mac's best day from an accuracy standpoint, his 39-yard completion to Meyers was the big play in what should've gone down as a game-winning drive. The Raiders defense showed a zero blitz before the snap, but fell into a post-safety zone after the snap, which left Meyers wide-open up the seam for a chunk play in a clutch moment.
The Patriots need their quarterback to be better than he was on Sunday, especially against a defense that ranks 31st in expected points added per pass attempt. But he made some throws in the comeback to help New England take the lead in the fourth quarter.
6. Patriots Run Defense Rights the Ship to Hold Josh Jacobs to 93 Yards on 22 Rush Attempts
Early on, the Patriots were favoring stopping the Raiders passing game by playing most downs out of two-high shells initially. Sometimes, they'd add the extra hat into the box to form a post-safety structure. But the main game-plan was early-down quarters and cover-two schemes where they were a man short in the box. Although it felt like they got run on in the first half, that was a choice they made to get the Raiders passing game out of sink. Once Vegas began pounding the rock, the Patriots seemed to adjust to more pre-snap single-high coverages to slow down Jacobs. Again, the ending puts a damper on a well-executed defensive game plan.
7. Blocked Punt Before Halftime Puts Another Blemish on Patriots Special Teams
The Patriots special teams has been a bit shaky of late with a blocked punt, their fourth in two seasons, setting up the Raiders offense up on the Patriots 20-yard line, leading directly to a touchdown. On the play, it appeared that the Pats protection unit was still getting organized when the ball was snapped, indicating that not everyone was on the same page. The short kickoffs since incumbent punter Jake Bailey went on injured reserve are also on our radar. Playing with fire, and suggesting that this team should want the former All-Pro back for the final three games.
8. Pool Reports Says Inconclusive Evidence on Keelan Cole's Controversial Touchdown
According to a pool report compiled by ESPN's Mike Reiss, the NFL's VP of Officiating Walt Anderson had this to say about the call on the field standing for a Raiders touchdown:
"We looked at every available angle and it was not clear and obvious that the foot was on the white. It was very tight, very close. There was no shot that we could see – we even enhanced and blew up the views that we had. There was nothing that was clear and obvious that his foot was touching the white."