Oakland was rallying, Denver was losing and the Raiders had the San Diego Chargers backed up inside the 1 midway through the fourth quarter.
With the stage set for the Raiders to win the AFC West and end an eight-year playoff drought, Oakland's defense once again failed in what was a recurring theme in a disappointing season.
Philip Rivers needed just four plays to drive the Chargers the length of the field, with his third touchdown pass being the decisive blow in San Diego's 38-26 victory Sunday that ended Oakland's playoff hopes.
"If you can't stop a team with everything on the line, you don't deserve to be a playoff team," defensive tackle Richard Seymour said. "We didn't get it done. So this one hurts. It stings for sure. It's disappointing. It's frustrating."
Oakland (8-8) went into the day needing a win and some help to make the playoffs. The Broncos cooperated with a 7-3 home loss to Kansas City, but the Raiders couldn't do their part by beating the Chargers (8-8). The Broncos won the division based on record versus common opponents.
"To find out it worked out the way you needed it to and to lose this one," quarterback Carson Palmer said. "It's going to be a long offseason."
The Chargers could only celebrate playing the role of spoiler in what may have been coach Norv Turner's final game in San Diego. If this was his last game, he ended his tenure with an offensive masterpiece as San Diego did not punt, committed just one turnover and gained 463 yards.
"It's special because a lot of people think there's nothing to play for," said Turner, who wouldn't address if he thought he'd be back next season. "Every time you walk out of the locker room onto the field as a player or coach, there's a lot to play for."
Rivers completed 19 for 26 passes for 310 yards and was at his best on a key drive in the fourth quarter after Oakland cut San Diego's lead to 31-26 with 9:37 to go.
After Richard Goodman mishandled the kickoff to force the Chargers to start from inside their 1, Rivers completed a 20-yard to Malcom Floyd, Mike Tolbert ran for 40 yards and Rivers threw a 43-yard TD pass to Floyd to make it a two-score game.
"It wasn't our goal to end their season, but it is kind of nice because we're going home as well," receiver Vincent Jackson said.
Antoine Cason then intercepted Palmer with 4:36 to go at the San Diego 20 to seal the victory for the Chargers and provide a disappointing finish to what had been a promising season for the Raiders.
Oakland seemed in control in the AFC West after beating Chicago 25-20 on Nov. 27 to improve to 7-4. But they lost four of their final five games, including squandering a late 13-point lead at home to Detroit two weeks ago to finish out of the postseason for the ninth straight year.
The late-season collapse left first-year coach Hue Jackson fuming, saying he was tired of covering up for his players. Jackson also would not commit to whether defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan would be back after the team allowed the third-most points in franchise history.
"At some point in time as a group of men, you go win the game," Jackson said. "You can say whatever you want about coaches. You win the game. Here's your time to make some plays. We didn't get them stopped and we didn't make enough plays."
Palmer, brought in at midseason after starter Jason Campbell broke his collarbone, delivered the kind of performance the Raiders expected, throwing for 417 yards and two touchdowns.
The Raiders set single-season records for penalties and yards penalized by committing eight for 64 yards. That gave them 163 for 1,358 yards, surpassing the totals of 158 for 1,304 set by the 1998 Chiefs. The record-setting penalty was a hold by Rock Cartwright on the opening kick of the second half.
The day got off to a bad start for the Raiders, who were eliminated from the wild-card chase when Tennessee held on to beat Houston 23-22 and the New York Jets lost 19-17 at Miami. But there were no score updates given all day at the Coliseum as Jackson wanted his team to keep focused on the task at hand.
The game started off well as Oakland drove 95 yards on its first possession to score on Palmer's 3-yard TD pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey. The drive was aided by a pair of personal fouls against San Diego, including one that got San Diego's leading sacker Antwan Barnes ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct.
But Oakland then allowed a 38-yard TD pass from Rivers to Antonio Gates, a 1-yard run by Tolbert after a pass interference call in the end zone against Stanford Routt tied the single-season penalty record and Goodman's 105-yard kickoff return for a score.
The Raiders trailed 24-13 at the break, missing a chance at points in the closing seconds when they completed a 6-yard pass to Louis Murphy inbounds with 8 seconds and were unable to stop the clock.
Notes: Mark Davis lit the flame honoring his late father Al Davis before the game. ... The Raiders allowed a franchise-worst 31 TD passes this season. ... Goodman's kickoff return TD was the first for San Diego since 2008.