Down eight with 2:22 seconds to go, Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels went for three.
Not long after, the Raiders lost to the Pittsburgh Steeler by five, 23-18, and the math added up to a 1-2 start to the Silver and Black’s season.
It was a confounding decision — even more so considering McDaniels made the choice to go for a field goal twice on his team’s penultimate possession. He stood by his call, however.
“You have two choices there,” McDaniels said. “You try to make it a five-point game where you have an opportunity to win it with a touchdown if you get the ball back. Or you try to go for it there, and if you happen to convert you have to make the two-point conversion, all the rest of it. So, those are the decisions you’ve got to make. I thought we did a decent job putting ourselves in third down there the next series with the defense to try to have a play to get off the field, and we just didn’t handle that play very well.”
As it played out, Daniel Carlson’s 26-yard field goal trimmed the Raiders’ deficit to the final score with 2:22 to play. However, while McDaniels’ decision cut the deficit, it also cut the Raiders’ win probability by 5.4%, per Next Gen Stats. Had Las Vegas rolled the dice on fourth down, its win probability was 13.9% in comparison to 8.5% kicking a field goal. Odds are big in Vegas, but McDaniels didn’t see it that way.
Asked if bringing on Carlson was an indictment of his confidence in the office, McDaniels replied, “No. No.”
Asked to explain, things got a bit more muddled.
“You’re going to need another possession anyway; you know what I mean?” McDaniels said. “So, it’s not a lack of confidence. We went for it multiple times.”
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McDaniels went for it twice on fourth down and the Raiders were 1 for 2 in the game. This time out, he didn’t go for it, because, per his explanation, he needed two possessions to win it.
Had the Raiders scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion, yes, they would’ve needed another possession to win it. But overtime obviously would’ve sufficed. Had they scored six and failed on a two-point attempt, they would’ve needed to get the ball back for a chance to score a game-winner — just as was a given to happen with a field goal. And had they failed going for it on fourth, they would’ve been in a similar situation of needing to get the ball back in an attempt to tie it with the same eight-point deficiency.
The odds weren’t great for the Raiders, but a field goal attempt was puzzling in the category of conventional wisdom. All the more so when adding the offense’s turnaround after sputtering through the first three quarters.
Trailing, 23-7, in the fourth quarter with 11:32 remaining, the Raiders made a game out of it when Jimmy Garoppolo connected with Davante Adams for a 1-yard touchdown and then hit Michael Mayer on the ensuing two-point conversion.
Las Vegas’ defense subsequently forced a second straight three-and-out and the Raiders offense was back at it. Stalled at the Pittsburgh 29-yard line, McDaniels elected to go for a 48-yard Carlson field goal with 3:11 to go. The choice seemed stunning at the time, but it made no matter as the Raiders received renewed hope when Pittsburgh was flagged for leverage on the FG attempt.
With a fresh new set of downs, Garoppolo and Co. gained just six yards to set up fourth-and-4 from the Pittsburgh 8.
Carlson trotted back out, did his job and left the Raider Nation scratching its collective spiked helmet.
The Raiders’ last gasp came with possession from their 15-yard line with 12 seconds to go after the Steelers were able to get a first down before a marvelous Pressley Harvin III punt.
Las Vegas’ faintest of final hopes were officially dashed when Garoppolo threw an interception.
Carlson’s field goal stood as the game’s final score, the Raiders having brought three points to an eight-point fight.
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