Raiders and Chargers seemed to know the outcome before it happened – Press Enterprise
INGLEWOOD — Either you catch it or you don’t. Either you win at the end or you don’t
The Raiders and Chargers, with identical stats in several major categories and various psychic and physical bruises to heal, met in SoFi Stadium on Sunday and had to wait past the zero hour to re-confirm their identities. Officially, the word came from referee Brad Rogers, who intoned, “The play has been changed,” and thus removed a game-winning touchdown from the hands of the Chargers’ Donald Parham Jr.
The Raiders had been watching replays and were already group-hugging. They knew they would win, this time 31-26, because it was a Sunday and the Chargers were involved. It would be insane, per Einstein’s theory, to expect anything else.
“That was the ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat right there,” said Raiders coach Jon Gruden, thinking about ABC’s Wide World of Sports. “I wish Jim McKay was back so he could say it better than I could.”
It came down to two near-identical plays, the final two plays of the game, in the corner of the end zone, both involving a 6-foot-4 rookie cornerback named Isaiah Johnson.
He is from the U. of Houston, a converted wide receiver who, earlier this week, learned that college teammate Ka’Darian Smith had been shot to death in Houston..
“He was my little brother,” Johnson said. “I didn’t say much about it. I didn’t want it to be a distraction.”
“He’s such a good player on scout teams, but now he had to run our system and do it for real,” quarterback Derek Carr. “He had a rough week. Today he made plays that could change his career.”
Justin Herbert first went to Mike Williams, and Johnson managed to dislodge the ball just enough, with his right hand, on the way down. Williams spent a long time on the turf before he could walk off. In that interim, the Chargers put Parham on that right side. Parham is 6-foot-8.
“I thought, he’s not over here for no reason,” Johnson said. “Just like the first play, I knew they were coming my way.”
Johnson couldn’t quite reach Parham when the ball came, but he thought he’d shoved it out of Parham’s grasp on the way down. He noticed the Chargers running out of their bench area to signify the victory.
“Well, I knew I’d knocked it out,” Johnson said. “All we needed was a replay. So I said, ‘OK, if y’all are going to celebrate something that you don’t even know happened, I’m going to celebrate too.’ ”
But even though Johnson had saved the game, the Chargers had begun losing it long before.
With 8:07 left, rookie K.J. Hill was tasked with catching a punt to give the Chargers a chance to go ahead with a field goal. Instead he muffed it, and the Raiders’ Kyle Wilber pretty much willed himself to emerge from the dogpile with it.
The Raiders turned it into a field goal and a five-point lead that meant the Bolts had to score a TD, although, Lord knows, we’ve seen them miss those, too.
The Raiders could easily be the 2-6 team. They are playing without their starting offensive tackles. They had to withstand straight-line winds in Cleveland last week and still won. They won at Kansas City.
The Raiders also screwed up, with Carr fumbling at the end of the half on a play that shouldn’t have been called and allowing the Chargers to take a 17-14 halftime lead. Carr came back out and put Las Vegas up 28-17 in short order.
Some teams, like some pitchers, get away with mistakes. And some teams, or most of them, have tougher skin than the Chargers do.
“I love putting up the numbers, I’ve had people pat me on the back, I’ve gone to a Pro Bowl, but none of it means anything until you win,” Carr said. “With this team, we’ve won when we’ve thrown for 300 yards, and we’ve won when we’ve run for 200. That’s fun.”
The Raiders brought Marcus Mariota to compete with and possibly replace Carr. Instead they got what they really wanted, a more deluxe Carr. This was the sixth time he has exceeded a passer rating of 100.
“He’s not thinking,” second-year pass rusher Maxx Crosby said. “He’s not listening to what anybody is saying. He’s just playing. He’s just getting better every day.”
Brad Rogers can say, “The play has been changed,” all he wants. The ending is the same, all the way down to Frank Sinatra’s lament through the Sofi loudspeakers as the Chargers went into another locker room of Sunday silence: “That’s life, and as funny as it may seem, some people get their kicks, stomping on a dream …”