HENDERSON, Nev. — With the ups and downs of the Las Vegas Raiders‘ season rivaled only by the sheer ridiculousness of it all, books (plural) should be written about it, a 30 for 30 ESPN documentary filmed, a how-to-survive-the-utter-chaos-of-it-all instruction guide printed.
That the Raiders made it to the finish line contending for a playoff spot was a miracle. So said quarterback Derek Carr, whose own future with the team may be tied to those of general manager Mike Mayock and interim coach Rich Bisaccia.
Want to relive those highs and lows? Take a deep breath and jump in, the water’s warm. Here’s a timeline of the Raiders’ 2021 season:
July 19: President Marc Badain resigns
A week before training camp is set to open, Badain, who began his Raiders career as a training camp intern and ballboy in 1991, became team president in 2015 and served as point person in the team’s move to Las Vegas, resigned unexpectedly. Badain said in a statement, “Now that the [Allegiant Stadium] project is complete it is time for me to focus on my family and look ahead to new pursuits.” Other members of the Raiders’ business side also resigned and owner Mark Davis later said reported financial irregularities meant the organization might have been paying too much in taxes and that issues could date back to the franchise’s days in Oakland. The whole episode set a strange tone for what’s to come.
Aug. 19: Raiders brawl with Los Angeles Rams in joint practice
The second of two joint practices ended with a flourish and massive fight at Cal Lutheran, a day after receiver Hunter Renfrow put on a clinic against Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey. The Raiders, though, lost two starters to season-ending injuries on Day 2 of the scrimmages in linebacker Nicholas Morrow (knee) and left guard Richie Incognito (right calf). The loss of Morrow, and Javin White in that weekend’s exhibition game at the Rams, would hasten the Raiders remaking their linebacker corps and acquiring Denzel Perryman and K.J. Wright.
Aug. 27: Maxx Crosby acknowledges stint in rehab
The third-year defensive end told ESPN.com he spent a month in rehab for alcoholism following his rookie season right around the start of the pandemic. He is following the path set by tight end Darren Waller, whose fight for sobriety has served as inspiration for others battling addiction.
Sept. 13: Raiders win wild season opener on Monday Night Football
It took a last-second, 55-yard field goal by kicker Daniel Carlson to send the game to overtime and it appeared the Raiders would start the season with a walk-off, 33-yard touchdown pass to receiver Bryan Edwards on the first possession of overtime. But replay ruled Edwards down at the Ravens’ 1, Carr was intercepted in the end zone three plays later and all the Baltimore Ravens needed was a field goal for the win.
Instead, defensive end Carl Nassib, making history as the first openly gay active player in the NFL, strip-sacked Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, Raiders defensive tackle Darius Philon recovered the fumble and Carr hit wide-open receiver Zay Jones for a 31-yard TD, the first of Las Vegas’ record six walk-off wins of the season.
🚨 WALK-OFF TD BY ZAY JONES!🚨
RAIDERS WIN IT IN VEGAS!
— ESPN (@espn) September 14, 2021
Not all was rosy though, as the Raiders lost right guard Denzelle Good for the season with a left knee injury. The team’s already reimagined offensive line underwent another massive facelift.
Sept. 26: Las Vegas beats Miami in OT
The Raiders started a season 3-0 for the first time since 2002 with their second overtime win in three games. Cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. set the tone with a perfectly-timed tackle for a safety on a pass after the Raiders had fallen behind 14-0. It would also be the last game Jon Gruden would win as Raiders coach.
Oct. 4: A strange night in Inglewood
What a weird night on the site where the late Al Davis was going to build a stadium for the Raiders in 1994 before pulling up stakes and moving back to Oakland in 1995. First, kickoff was delayed by a lightning storm, with SoFi Stadium having a roof but open concourses and a huge crowd waiting to get in. The Raiders were already on the field for the opening kickoff but had to find their way back to the locker room, which Gruden lamented for its maze- and labyrinth-like quality. Then, after the Chargers held on for a 28-14 win, defensive end Joey Bosa essentially questioned Carr’s manhood, saying the Raiders quarterback gets “shook” when he gets hit.
The Raiders’ much-derided first-round pick, drafted to be a cornerstone right tackle, is moved to the interior with Brandon Parker setting up on the outside. The Raiders’ spin was that they were simply improving the offensive line but it is nowhere near the biggest story of the week.
Oct. 8: Gruden’s emails go public
Minutes after Gruden left the podium following his Friday presser, the Wall Street Journal published a near decade-old email authored by Gruden to former Washington Football Team president Bruce Allen, using a racial trope to describe NFLPA president DeMaurice Smith. Gruden acknowledged writing the missives but said there was no racial intent meant, that he, as a football fan, was frustrated by the lockout at the time of his email.
The Raiders disavowed the tone of the emails and Gruden was allowed to coach two days later against the Chicago Bears. But the team was obviously distracted and a locker room divide seems obvious after the 20-9 loss, which featured former Raiders NFL Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack, traded away by Gruden after Mack held out in 2018 training camp, throwing up an “O” to the Las Vegas crowd after a sack — presumably for “Oakland.”
Oct. 11: A bigger dump of Gruden emails seals his fate
Gruden appeared in a good mood at his Monday news conference, smiling and making jokes, despite the Raiders riding a two-game losing streak. The email controversy seemed to be behind him. But early that evening, the New York Times published a story with even more damning Gruden emails from the previous decade, when he was working as an analyst for ESPN. The missives are fraught with racist, misogynistic and anti-gay language.
After an emotional meeting with Raiders owner Mark Davis, Gruden, who was hired to a 10-year contract worth a reported $100 million in 2018, resigned. “I’m sorry,” Gruden said in a statement. “I never meant to hurt anyone.” Special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia was named interim coach.
Oct. 13: Davis addresses power structure
Davis told ESPN Gruden once held a 51 to 49% decision-making advantage over general manager Mike Mayock. Now, Mayock held it over Bisaccia. Asked about the entire situation, with rumors of the league leaking the Gruden emails that came to light in an investigation of the Washington Football Teams’ workplace, a frustrated Davis said, “Ask the NFL. They have all the answers.”
Oct. 17: Raiders respond and thump Denver Broncos
A shocked Raiders team took it out on a division rival, outplaying the Broncos in Denver to the tune of a 34-24 thumping in the head coaching debut of 61-year-old Bisaccia, a venerated special teams coordinator who had never been a head coach at any level of during a coaching career that began in 1983.
Oct. 24: Who are these guys?
Riding that emotional high, the Raiders put together another complete effort, with the offense humming in beating the visiting Philadelphia Eagles 33-22 to enter their bye week with momentum. But Carr said something that stuck when he acknowledged he hasn’t had a chance to “process” everything when it comes to Gruden. The bye gave the emotional Carr more than enough time to marinate in it.
Nov. 2: Henry Ruggs III involved in deadly crash
The Raiders returned from the bye on Nov. 1, and everything looked and felt good. All the players returned for meetings and physical therapy, nobody tested positive for COVID-19. They were given explicit directions by Bisaccia and staff upon leaving Monday afternoon for a day off — be smart. Receiver Henry Ruggs III, after a night of hitting balls at Topgolf and sending video texts to Carr and Renfrow asking for tips on his swing, is involved in a deadly car crash.
Police said his blood alcohol content was twice the legal limit for Nevada and his Corvette was going as fast as 156 mph at 3:39 a.m. PT before ramming into the back of 23-year-old Tina Tintor’s RAV4 on a residential street, her car bursting into flames and Tintor and her dog perishing in the fire. The Raiders released Ruggs, a 2020 first-round pick who had been coming into his own as a playmaker, less than 24 hours later and he is facing four felonies, a misdemeanor and up to 50 years in prison.
Nov. 5-8: A listless weekend in New Jersey
As the Raiders’ bus was on its way to the team hotel in New Jersey on Friday night, video of cornerback Damon Arnette — who was on injured reserve and not with the team on the cross-country trip — flashing guns and issuing death threats went viral. Sunday, looking listless and lost, Carr played his worst game of the year and the Raiders, heavy favorites, fell to the New York Giants 23-16, with Carr getting strip-sacked serving as an ignominious end. Monday, the Raiders cut Arnette, with Mayock taking the blame for the risky pick of him the year before. Within a week, the Raiders were without their two first-round picks of the 2020 draft. Las Vegas signed veteran wide receiver DeSean Jackson to help with speed on the outside.
Nov. 12: Gruden levies a lawsuit against the NFL
The former Raiders coach’s suit alleged the NFL “selectively leaked Gruden’s private correspondence to the Wall Street Journal and New York Times in order to harm Gruden’s reputation and force him out of his job. There is no explanation or justification as to why Gruden’s emails were the only ones made public out of 650,000 collected in the NFL’s investigation of the Washington Football Team or why the emails were held for months before being released in the middle of the Raiders’ season.”
Nov. 14: Blown out on national TV by Kansas City Chiefs
Las Vegas nearly swept the Chiefs in 2020, beating them in Kansas City and falling in the final minute at home. This one was not even close, the Chiefs embarrassing their rivals on Sunday Night Football 41-14 as their fans took over Allegiant Stadium and delighted in doing the Tomahawk Chop.
Nov. 25: Giving thanks for Dallas Cowboys PIs
Reports of the Raiders’ demise were greatly exaggerated, Part I, as Las Vegas, which had lost three straight post-bye games, erupted in Dallas for a 36-33 overtime win. The Raiders are helped by Anthony Brown‘s four pass interference penalties for 91 yards but Jackson showed he still has speed with a 56-yard catch-and-run TD for the game’s first score. The Raiders were back, so it seemed, in front of the largest NFL regular-season TV audience since 1993.
Dec. 5: A dud at home vs. a familiar face
Even with extra rest, the Raiders came out flat against the Washington Football Team at home. Jack Del Rio, the Raiders’ coach from 2015-17 and now WFT’s defensive coordinator, won the game of chess against Carr … even if refs missed a blatant defensive holding/pass interference call late that would have put the Raiders in position for a game-winning field-goal attempt.
Dec. 9: Committing to specialists
The Raiders have always taken pride in keeping their specialists together and taking care of them, from Ray Guy and Chris Bahr to Jeff Gossett and Jeff Jaeger to Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski. Las Vegas signed punter AJ Cole and kicker Carlson to multi-year extensions, a bold move for a front office and staff not guaranteed to return in 2022.
Dec. 12: Stick a fork in ’em
If the Raiders want to be mentioned in the same breath as the Chiefs, they’ve got a long way to go. There would be no celebratory bus ride around Arrowhead Stadium this time, not with Kansas City beating the Raiders 48-9 and Las Vegas having lost five of six since the bye to fall to 6-7. This after defensive end Yannick Ngakoue held a pregame meeting on the Chiefs’ midfield logo.
Dec. 20: Hurry up and wait
Reports of the Raiders’ demise were greatly exaggerated, Part II. Yes, the Raiders were facing a COVID-ravaged Cleveland Browns team starting a third-string quarterback in a game delayed 49 hours because of Cleveland’s outbreak (the Raiders, who had no players on the COVID list at the time, were about to board their bus for the airport when the NFL delayed the game) but after Carr’s late interception on a deep ball with the Raiders trailing by one, it appeared as though the season was done.
Las Vegas’ defense, though, got a three-and-out and Carr led the Raiders on a last-minute drive to set Carlson up for a 48-yard FG and the win. Added good vibes on the day — Perryman, Crosby and Cole were named to the Pro Bowl.
Jan. 2: Stayin’ alive
A week after outlasting the Broncos at home, the Raiders went on the road and upset the Indianapolis Colts on another last-season field goal. It was Las Vegas’ record fifth walk-off win of the season, setting up a win-and-they’re-in-the-playoffs game against the Los Angeles Chargers in the finale, which was flexed into prime time. The Raiders clinched their first winning season since 2016, their second since 2002. Things were looking up. Until …
Jan. 3: Another DUI arrest
Hours after arriving home from the win at Indianapolis, rookie nickel cornerback Nate Hobbs was arrested for DUI when he was found sleeping in his car in the exit of a Las Vegas Strip casino parking lot at 4:09 a.m. PT.
It came two months and one day after Ruggs’ wreck, one day shy of a year to the day when running back Josh Jacobs is arrested for DUI after a single-car wreck near the Las Vegas airport. Bisaccia, though, said while the organization takes the arrest seriously, it is a legal matter and he expected Hobbs to play against the Chargers. Meanwhile, names such as Jim Harbaugh, Leslie Frazier and Todd Bowles started to pop up in the rumor mill as possible head coaching candidates for the Raiders.
Jan. 9: Playoff bound
Of course, a million times of course, the Raiders’ regular season finale would be a microcosm of their season — off to a quick start, go flat, take off again, only to be caught and forced to play OT after the Chargers scored 15 points in the last 4:28 of regulation. After the teams traded FGs to start the extra period, Carlson drilled a 47-yarder with no time (again, no time) on the clock for the win.
Daniel Carlson hits a 47-yard field goal as time expires in overtime to send the Raiders to the playoffs and knock out the Chargers.
Yes, the Raiders had “conversations” about settling for a tie near midfield, and a draw would have put both the Raiders and Chargers into the postseason, but two Josh Jacobs runs got Las Vegas close enough for Carlson’s game-winner — the Raiders’ record sixth walk-off win, the fifth by Carlson’s foot. And Las Vegas, in the postseason for the first time since 2016 and just the second time since 2002, is now off to face the Cincinnati Bengals.