Raiders lose 23-20 in Indy, eliminated from playoff race

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
The Raiders will miss the playoffs for the 19th time in 21 seasons.

Some may say the Indianapolis Colts were a bit hungrier Sunday, in their quest to stay alive in the AFC Playoff race. That’s certainly not to take away from what the Las Vegas Raiders continue to accomplish under interim coach Antonio Pierce.

With their 23-20 loss in Indianapolis, the Raiders (7-9) had their mini two-game winning streak brought. They will miss the playoffs for the second straight season and 19th time in 21 years.

They now have gone 21 seasons without winning a division title, tied for the second-longest skid in the NFL.

That said, to accompany a 4-4 record since the elimination of a toxic environment under former coach Josh McDaniels, the Raiders have re-established cohesiveness, camaraderie, determination, and an indomitable spirit that should far more be remembered than the fact the Raiders will start their offseason early, again.

“Guys are disappointed. Why wouldn’t you be?” said Pierce, when asked the obligatory mood-in-the-locker-room question. “We want to win every game. Had a great opportunity there. Right there at the very end. Moving forward, we get paid to play 17 games. I’m being paid to instruct and coach for 17 games. We got one at home that we’re excited about. We’ll move forward like we’ve done everything. If we would have won the game, I’d say the same thing. We’re moving forward.”

The 17th and final game will either be Saturday or Sunday against AFC West-rival Denver, as the Raiders welcome the Broncos to Las Vegas.

“We’ll be off of this in 24 hours, get ready for a divisional opponent at home against the Broncos. We’re excited about that. Another opportunity for us to get better. Season ain’t over until it’s over. Get to the playoffs, that is all fine and dandy, but we have another game to play and it’s at home and we’ll be ready to do it.”

Unfortunately, they didn’t appear ready at the start of Sunday’s game in Indianapolis, where the Colts opened a 14-3 lead while the Raiders were forced to punt on four straight possessions after getting a field goal on their initial drive of the game.

Quarterback Aidan O’Connell finished with his most productive day of his rookie season, completing 30 of 47 for 299 yards and two TDs, both to Davante Adams who had 13 receptions for 126 yards. His completions and yards were both career highs.

Adams, meanwhile, topped the 1,000-yard mark for the fourth consecutive season. He needs two receptions next week against the Broncos for the fifth 100-catch, 1,000-yard season of his career.

Despite the impressive numbers, the aforementioned determination and plenty of grit wasn’t enough to complete the comeback after the Raiders outscored the Colts 17-9 in the second half.

It was a far cry from the emotional and triggered effort the Raiders showed in Kansas City on Christmas morning.

“It’s the NFL, you can’t rely on momentum from last week,” O’Connell said. “You can’t look ahead. Every series, every play has enough of its own that you got to lock in on.

“We definitely should have scored more points today than what we did, so that was probably the most frustrating part.”

The Raiders, who came in as the least penalized team in the NFL, struggled with costly penalties, committing seven for 54 yards.

Indy’s third second-half field goal from Matt Gay was set up by pass interference and offside penalties against Jack Jones, a hero on the defensive side of the ball the last two games with interceptions returned for touchdowns. The Colts then recovered an onside kick to seal the victory after Adams’ second TD catch put the game within reach for Las Vegas.

We’ve been pretty good as far as being focused pre-snap,” Pierce said. “That didn’t happen today on both sides of the ball. Again, that kind of costs you in a game like this where it comes down to three points. We have opportunities on third and fourth-and-one to keep drives alive.

“We got to do better jobs as coaches, that’s what you’re going to hear. It’s just a focus thing, right? False starts, off-sides. That’s Raiders beating themselves. For seven games at least we haven’t done that. Today it kind of came up and it bit us.”

Now, though the message was the focus being on the final game of the season, owner Mark Davis has to shift his focus on whether or not Pierce has done enough to have the interim tag removed.

“What happens in the future, that goes for all of us,” Pierce said.