Having already been eliminated from playoff contention going into their final game of the season, the Raiders spoke of still giving their best effort out of pride and as a way to build momentum into next year. They believed they could put a scare into the Chiefs during a Week 18 showdown, if not knock their rivals from the top overall seed in the AFC playoffs.
It didn’t end up happening. As it has done so many times before, Kansas City humiliated Las Vegas, cruising to a 31-13 victory in front of a partisan crowd in Las Vegas.
Some of the outnumbered contingent of fans in silver and black booed the Raiders off the field, and at least one man was ejected for holding a sign critical of coach Josh McDaniels, who sounded crestfallen in his postgame news conference.
“They’ve been together for a long time, and they’ve got a really good formula,” McDaniels said of the Chiefs. “They have a process in place that’s pretty damn successful. We know who we’re chasing.”
“Chasing the Chiefs” has been a theme of two straight Raiders coaching staffs—three if you count interim coach Rich Bisaccia as a separate tenure—and at this rate, it could last a couple more. A lot has gone wrong during the 20 years that have passed since the Raiders last won a playoff game—disastrous free-agent signings, poor draft decisions and a revolving door of coaches.
But the biggest hurdle currently standing in the way of the Raiders regaining the type of perennial success they once enjoyed are the Chiefs. Facing the best team in the NFL twice a year and competing with it for divisional titles is no
Kansas City has now won the AFC West in seven consecutive seasons, and the latest title was the most demoralizing yet to the Raiders and the division’s other two teams (the Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos), since this was supposed to be the year when the Chiefs were finally vulnerable.
Superstar and soon-to-be two-time MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes graduated out of his rookie deal and into the richest contract in the league, meaning the Chiefs had to cut costs elsewhere on the roster to adhere to the salary cap. The biggest casualties happened at the skill positions, with top receiver Tyreek Hill traded to the Miami Dolphins for draft picks.
Yet despite a weakened supporting cast and therefore a less-explosive offense, Mahomes arguably put together the best season of his career, finishing with 5,250 passing yards and 45 total touchdowns.
He improved his lifetime record against the Raiders to 9-1, with the average score during that span a 17-point Chiefs’ victory. Las Vegas might have played its best game of the year in Week 5 at Kansas City, and still left with a 30-29 defeat.
In hindsight, it’s amazing it was that close, given the makeup of this year’s team. The Raiders’ biggest shortcomings were pass rush and pass coverage, key aspects needed against Mahomes.
But that was partly on the old regime of coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock. The duo explicitly outlined on multiple occasions that their plan was to fight fire with fire and try to dethrone the Chiefs by beating them at their own game, with an offense emphasizing vertical passing and speed.
The plan worked to an extent, at least on one fruitful day. One of the Raiders’ most significant wins since moving to Las Vegas three seasons ago—almost surely the second-biggest behind edging the Chargers to reach the playoffs in the 2021 season—came in Week 5 of 2020 when they knocked off the Chiefs 40-32 on the road.
The victory snapped a 13-game Chiefs’ winning streak dating back to their Super Bowl-winning season and stands as the Raiders only win at Arrowhead Stadium since 2012. Outgoing Raiders quarterback Derek Carr finished with a 3-14 record against the Chiefs in nine seasons at the helm.
Las Vegas hasn’t beaten Kansas City in its most recent five tries, and that’s a big enough concern that McDaniels and current general manager Dave Zielger should shift the organizational philosophy this offseason. The Raiders should prioritize drafting and signing players with skill sets specific to combating Mahomes and the Chiefs.
It might seem like overcompensating to build a team’s roster based on what a rival has achieved, but that’s the specter the Chiefs command over the rest of the AFC West. And that’s the approach it will take to win at the highest level consistently in Las Vegas.
Chasing the Chiefs is inescapable. Not being able to show much progress in terms of catching them, even in a year in which it appeared set up to happen, is indefensible.
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