We all know football games are not decided by one play, one mistake, one person. But when multiple plays and mistakes come from one person — in the most crucial of circumstances, no less — it’s a little easier to assign blame. Such is the case of Jon Gruden and the Las Vegas Raiders, who not only lost a very winnable game to the Miami Dolphins on Saturday night but lost any chance of entering the 2020 playoffs and ending a three-year streak of spending January at home.
On a night when Derek Carr put up big numbers targeting Darren Waller and Nelson Agholor, who combined for 267 yards in a demolition of Miami’s secondary; and when Josh Jacobs averaged more than five yards per carry; and when Vegas’ defense got all kinds of push up front, logging three sacks and seven tackles for loss, Gruden managed to undermine all of the Raiders’ last-minute resiliency with a string of iffy decisions.
His team, which squandered a path to the postseason in 2019 thanks to a December collapse, looked on the verge of an inspiring finish after Agholor drew a 49-yard pass interference penalty to set Vegas up at Miami’s 22-yard line with 2:20 to go. Three plays later, the Raiders had a first-and-goal from the Dolphins’ 13 with 1:55 to play and Miami down to one timeout. But then came trouble, straight from Gruden’s headset. While the coach evidently and rightfully wanted to run down the clock so as to reduce the chance of a Ryan Fitzpatrick-led comeback, he opted to do so at the expense of a bigger Raiders lead, electing to play for a go-ahead field goal (a two-point lead) rather than a go-ahead touchdown, which would’ve forced Miami to also score six on its ensuing possession.
That’s not even mentioning the fact Gruden centered this strategy on Daniel Carlson, the same kicker who earlier missed an extra point and was now being counted on to take the lead despite Vegas getting all the way to the Dolphins’ 1-yard line after a second-and-goal Josh Jacobs run. Oh, and it gets better: Even though the entire ordeal stemmed from Gruden’s desire to burn clock rather than play for more points, the Raiders’ sideline somehow still allowed Carr to kneel down on third-and-goal with six full seconds still on the play clock, gifting Miami additional time for its future game-winning series.
The Dolphins almost certainly would not have won — setting up the deciding field goal on an improbable throw from Fitzpatrick — without that extra time. And they may have needed an even bigger miracle to win had Vegas simply scored a touchdown of its own.
Again, were Gruden’s decisions the only reason Vegas lost Saturday? No. But when you’re a $100 million head coach, amid the home stretch of your third season at the helm of the team, with still zero playoff appearances in that time, the decisions aren’t just little mistakes anymore. They’re paramount.
«It’s hard to swallow right now. That’s a horrible way to lose a game. I don’t regret taking a knee. We wanted to give the Dolphins the ball with as little time as possible with no timeouts,» Gruden said after the game.