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Sunday Night Football: After a near tie, Raiders defeat Chargers 35-32 to clinch playoff berth

There were plenty of wild games on the final day of the 2021 regular season.

But even though the Raiders and Chargers both would have gone to the postseason with a tie, each team played to win. And it took an entire overtime period to decide the contest, the Raiders came out on top with a 35-32 victory to clinch their first playoff berth since 2016.

Once the Raiders and Chargers each scored field goals in overtime, it looked as if Las Vegas might play for the tie. The club faced third-and-4 from the L.A. 39 when Chargers head coach Brandon Staley elected to call a timeout with 38 seconds left.

As quarterback Derek Carr told NBC’s Michele Tafoya after the game, the timeout “definitely changed our mindset” for the upcoming third-down play.

Running back Josh Jacobs took a handoff to the left for 10-yards. Las Vegas took a timeout with two seconds left. And Daniel Carlson kicked a 47-yard field goal through the uprights to send the Raiders to the postseason and the Chargers home unhappy.

That was one of a few significant coaching decisions Staley made during the contest. Down by three at the time, Staley chose to go for it on fourth-and-1 from Los Angeles’ own 18-yard line with 8:57 left in the third quarter. But running back Austin Ekeler was stuffed for a 2-yard loss, setting up the Raiders for at least three points.

That’s all Las Vegas was able to manage out of the golden scoring opportunity, as Carr threw a pair of incomplete passes on second and third down. Carlson’s 31-yard field goal made the score 20-14, Raiders.

Las Vegas would end up building a 29-14 lead with Carlson’s 52-yard field goal with 8:23 left in the fourth quarter. But that’s when the Chargers began their furious comeback to send the game to overtime.

Quarterback Justin Herbert completed a 23-yard touchdown to receiver Joshua Palmer on fourth-and-21 to make the score 29-20. The Chargers then got a successful two-point conversation with a pass from Herbert to Ekeler.

Then Los Angeles put together a stunning, 19-play, 83-yard drive to tie the game at 29 as time expired in regulation. Herbert made throws to convert a pair of fourth-and-10 plays and Los Angeles converted another fourth-and-10 with a holding penalty on Las Vegas’ defense.

In all, the Chargers were 6-of-7 on fourth down, converting each of their last six chances.

On the last play of regulation, Herbert hit receiver Mike Williams with a 12-yard dart to the end zone. Dustin Hopkins’ extra point tied the game at 29 and sent it to overtime.

Carlson connected on his fourth field goal of the game to give Las Vegas a 32-29 lead. But the Chargers answered with Hopkins’ 41-yard field goal to put the tie scenario firmly in play.

At that point, members of the Steelers organization and their fans were likely sweating since a tie would take them out of the postseason. But Staley’s critical timeout helped the Raiders get in a position to win the game.

With the victory, the Raiders finish the regular season 10-7 and are on to Cincinnati. Quarterback Derek Carr is slated to start his first postseason contest against second-year QB Joe Burrow and the Bengals on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET.

The Chargers end their first year under Staley at 9-8 and miss the postseason for the third year in a row.

And because the game — narrowly — avoided a tie, the Steelers will play the Chiefs next Sunday night at 8:15 p.m. ET.