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Raiders fall to Jets

Noah K. Murray / Associated Press

New York Jets’ Javelin Guidry, left, forces a fumble by Las Vegas Raiders’ Henry Ruggs III during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. The New York Jets recovered the fumble.

East Rutherford, N.J. — 

A year ago, when the Jets unceremoniously drowned the Raiders at MetLife Stadium, coach Jon Gruden compared his team to a sinking ship.

Gruden nearly captained the capsizing of another metaphorical boat into the Meadowlands Marina Sunday afternoon before putting Henry Ruggs III and Derek Carr into position to pull off an unlikely rescue mission. In the final seconds of the game, Gruden called for his rookie receiver to make a double-move while streaking down the sideline to set himself free and allow his veteran quarterback to heave a pass towards the end zone.

The maneuver worked, as a 46-yard touchdown pass from Carr to Ruggs led Las Vegas to a 31-28 victory over New York and perhaps saved its season.

“I threw it as high as I could and just prayed he could run under it,” Carr said. “I thank (general manager Mike) Mayock for drafting that man because I don’t know how many guys would have went and got that football.”

The ball still tucked tightly under his right arm, Ruggs ran through the end zone and into a swarm of his celebrating teammates. The Raiders’ temperament couldn’t have been any more different than a couple minutes before when they trotted off the field silently after the Jets stopped them on 4th down from the 9-yard line inside the 2-minute warning.

At that point, their playoff hopes looked like they had the survival chances of someone floating alone on a life raft in the middle of the ocean. But Ruggs’ touchdown improved them to 7-5 with four games to play, currently out of the postseason but only barely and with home matchups against two of the teams a game ahead of them — the Colts and the Dolphins — over the next three weeks.

“It didn’t even feel real to me,” tight end Darren Waller said. “I didn’t know what was going on. I was sprinting full speed to Henry. That was an incredible play by Henry, a great call by coach to take that chance and a great throw by Derek. It was just pandemonium on our sideline.”

Waller got the Raiders onto the Jets’ side of the field with 35 seconds remaining on the first play of the drive. After Las Vegas’ defense forced a quick punt, Gruden dialed up an intermediate curl route for Waller with sights on getting close enough to throw deep the rest of the way.

It worked perfectly as Waller caught the ball over the middle of the field for a 16-yard gain.   

“Put ourselves in position for the Hail Mary at the very least,” Gruden said. “That was the No. 1 goal.”

Carr overthrew Nelson Agholor on the first attempt, but on the second, he stepped up amid a collapsing pocket, turned towards the sideline, set his feet and ripped the pass to Ruggs.

“It seemed like the ball was in the air forever,” Ruggs said. “It seemed like it wouldn’t come down. I just had to find it and make a play.”

Ruggs “was kind of surprised” he only needed to beat one defensive back, rookie corner Lamar Jackson, because the Jets blitzed eight players. The standard procedure with the game on the line would have been to drop all but three or four players back into coverage, but defensive coordinator Gregg Williams lived up to his ever-aggressive reputation.

The strategy baffled players on both sidelines.

“I couldn’t believe they all-out blitzed us,” Carr said. “As soon as I saw it, I was thankful.”

“In that situation, you’ve just got to be in a better call,” said Jets safety/captain Marcus Maye before later doubling down on his criticism.

Gruden was more understanding.

“They lost to New England on Monday Night Football and they didn’t blitz; Cam Newton made a throw and I’m sure they got criticized for no pass rush,” he said. “Then you blitz, and you get beat over the top. We’re in this business together as coaches and we’re never going to be right when we lose.”

Gruden’s job security is safe regardless as he’s in the third year of a 10-year, $100 million contract but some frustrated fans would have surely called it into question if the Jets prevailed. It would have been the Raiders’ third consecutive loss, and their second straight in inexcusable fashion considering the Jets were winless and comfortably the worst team in the NFL.

And, for the majority of the day, it looked like it could happen. Las Vegas appeared lifeless in the frigid venue — it was 39 degrees with as high as 18 mile per hour wind gusts — where it had never won before.

Waller was one of the only Raiders who appeared on his game as he set a career high with 200 receiving yards and tied another personal mark with 13 receptions. He scored each of the Raiders’ first two touchdowns, first catching a 9-yard pass down the seam and then breaking a pair of tackles to take a catch near the line of scrimmage 38 yards for a score. He became the fourth tight end in NFL history to log at least 200 yards and two touchdowns in a game.

“He caught them everywhere, he ran all kinds of routes,” Gruden said. “A lot of guys can’t even dream of doing what Darren Waller can do. He solidified himself today clearly as one of the top Pro Bowl tight ends in this business.”

Waller’s second touchdown came right before halftime, giving the Raiders their first lead at 17-13 after a one-handed, diving interception from cornerback Trayvon Mullen that had the sideline celebrating almost as much as Ruggs’ game-winner. The highlight play seemed to energize the Raiders as they also came out for the second half hot and scored on a Derek Car rush after a 75-yard drive.

Aside from that midgame stretch, Las Vegas largely struggled perhaps in part offensively due to the lack of a rushing game with running back Josh Jacobs out with a sprained ankle. Ruggs typified the poor play.

He caused an interception on the Raiders’ first drive when a pass from Carr hit off of his hands and went into Jets cornerback Arthur Maulet’s. Midway through the fourth quarter, Ruggs caught a third-down pass and turned upfield but was stripped from behind by cornerback Javelin Guidry for another turnover at Las Vegas’ own 44-yard line.

“It was in the back of my mind,” Ruggs said of his mistakes. “I knew if I didn’t make a play to make up for it, it would eat me up after the game.”

With the short field after Ruggs’ fumble, the Jets found the end zone in just more than three minutes to go up 28-24. Running back Ty Johnson scored the touchdown, capping a day where the unheralded second-year pro went for a career-high 102 yards against a disappointing Raiders’ defensive performance.

Clelin Ferrell had two strip-sacks in his return from coronavirus, but apart from his performance and Mullen’s moment, there weren’t many positives. Jets quarterback Sam Darnold put up a season-high 8.1 yards per passing attempt and snapped a league-high five-game streak of no touchdown passes with a pair to wide receiver Jamison Crowder.

“Last year we came out here and they put a whooping on us,” Ferrell said. “I did not want to lose when I came back out here, especially in my first game back.”

The Raiders came dangerously close, but in the end, Ruggs’ catch kept them afloat.

“We’re like, ‘What? This is not real,’ when Henry caught it,” Ferrell said. “It was like, ‘Oh my Gosh.’ It was the most unreal emotion. I couldn’t even believe it.”    

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or

Article written by #LasVegasSun