The Sin City Miracle, the Lateral of Shame — whatever you want to call it — may have changed the trajectory of two franchises.
The New England Patriots are likely to miss the playoffs, with just a 19% chance of earning a wild-card spot, per FiveThirtyEight.com. And the Las Vegas Raiders may have a renewed sense of faith in coach Josh McDaniels, who finally experienced a last-second victory after suffering some late collapses.
You may have heard that the Raiders defeated the Patriots 30-24 on Sunday in truly mind-boggling fashion. To recap, with three seconds remaining Las Vegas outside linebacker Chandler Jones intercepted a lateral from New England WR Jakobi Meyers that was intended for QB Mac Jones. Chandler then proceeded to stiff-arm Mac on the way to the end-zone for a walk-off touchdown.
Raiders score miraculous game-winning TD
With three seconds left and a tie score, the Patriots ran the ball, basically conceding overtime. After a 23-yard gain, RB Rhamondre Stevenson pitched the ball to Jakobi Meyers, who passed the ball back toward Mac Jones. Raiders LB Chandler Jones picked off the lateral and ran the ball to the house for a Las Vegas win. Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe react to the wild ending.
It was a New England meltdown that left Meyers in tears in the locker room. It was a sensation that left Chandler Jones saying he loves McDaniels in a postgame interview.
I already dissected the play. So let’s dissect the fallout of this play. Because its impact could be profound in sending these two teams into the offseason with opposite senses of direction.
Did Josh McDaniels’ win over the Patriots save his job with the Raiders?
McDaniels has been on the other end of fourth-quarter catastrophes this season.
Last week, the Raiders lost to the Los Angeles Rams by one point — and at the expense of a comeback by quarterback Baker Mayfield just days after he signed with L.A. The Raiders lost to the Kansas City Chiefs by one point and to the Tennessee Titans by two. Most of the Raiders’ wins have been a struggle, too. Eleven of their 15 games have finished with a one-score differential.
Surely, it felt good for McDaniels to notch the win. The Raiders are now 4-1 in their past five games.
“Well, I’ve stood up here a lot this year after some crazy finishes,” McDaniels said postgame. “I just told the guys in the locker room: We keep fighting and keep playing with great effort. We obviously have a lot of character in our locker room and continue to fight and press on even when it felt like it was hard. Lost a lead there late in the fourth quarter and guys came back and made the plays that they needed to make to win.
“I mean, it’s football, the ball bounces crazy, crazy ways. It’s not a predictable game sometimes. And obviously the ending was probably the most insane ending I think I’ve ever been a part of, but we’ll take it. We’ll take it, for sure.”
Patriots committed “dumbest play ever”
Colin Cowherd calls the Patriots’ lateral the “dumbest play” he’s ever seen.
At 6-8, the Raiders aren’t likely going to make the postseason, especially not with the Chargers winning on Sunday. So McDaniels’ team didn’t save the season with the win. He might have saved his job, however. Las Vegas looks suddenly formidable — at least more so than earlier this year. And while owner Mark Davis has insisted he will stick with McDaniels no matter what this year, there was some doubt when the Raiders started 2-7 in a season in which they were expected to compete for the postseason.
McDaniels should hold onto his job, barring a big surprise. This win over New England — which concluded with the insane lateral — might just give McDaniels another year to prove himself. Had he lost — and suffered a few more defeats down the stretch — he might have ended up the offensive coordinator for the Patriots again.
Where do Patriots go in wake of an awful offensive season?
Even after this humiliating finish, New England’s season is progressing roughly as many expected. The Patriots are 7-7 heading into the roughest part of their schedule, closing the regular season against the Bengals, Dolphins and Bills. It’s possible — maybe even likely — that New England ends up 7-10. I didn’t necessarily expect this team to make the postseason, particularly given how strong their schedule was. I expected a decent start followed by a collapse.
It’s not like the Patriots have turned into a different team. They have simply played substantially more talented opponents. And, perhaps, New England not turning into a different team is a bad thing. The Patriots offense needed to evolve if they were going to make the postseason. And it hasn’t.
Their defense exceeded expectations. Their offense failed to meet them. And Sunday’s game was a microcosm of a team that desperately needed its defense or special teams to score points to win. That’s what the defense did against the Raiders, with safety Kyle Dugger logging a pick-six. That score made the Patriots defense the league leader in defensive touchdowns (6). New England also added a punt return touchdown, which served as the game-winner against the New York Jets in Week 11.
So as the Patriots evaluate their offense — and how it needs to change — they will look at two people, in particular. There’s quarterback Mac Jones, who completed just 42% of his passes for 112 yards against the Raiders. And there’s offensive playcaller Matt Patricia, whose playcalling and play-designing have been unimpressive. The Patriots offense has put up the eighth-fewest yards per game and the ninth-fewest offensive points per game.
It wouldn’t hurt to review the receiver group, too, where the top targets for 2023 project to be DeVante Parker, Tyquan Thornton and Kendrick Bourne. Meyers, their top option, and Nelson Agholor, their highest-paid option, are pending free agents. Meyers would be worth retaining, but the Patriots still need a true No. 1 option. They have needed one for years.
So New England should probably add a receiver. And the team should probably part ways with either Patricia or Jones — whoever is at the root of the offensive issues. And given that Jones showed tremendous promise under McDaniels and Patricia has done nothing but sink QB stats during his career, the Patriots should probably replace Patricia this offseason — or perhaps move him back to the defensive side of the ball where he has enjoyed past successes.
Is there any way that Mac Jones ends up in Vegas?
It makes more sense, in my mind, to move Patricia over to the defense and give Jones one more year to prove himself under a more capable coordinator. But here’s why Bill Belichick might not do that.
1. As much as Patricia has seemed like the problem, Belichick remains devout in his admiration for the former Lions head coach. Belichick gave Patricia a job soon after his failed stint in Detroit. And now, Belichick has given Patricia his first gig as an offensive playcaller. Belichick has defended Patricia all season long.
2. It is rare for Belichick to turn tail on a failed experiment after one year. Belichick is stubborn, even when it’s immediately clear he has made a mistake.
3. Belichick might not like what Patricia is doing, but he might like what Jones is doing even less. Not only has Jones struggled on the field, his behavior — and flagrant insubordination — might not sit well with Belichick. Jones has been spotted swearing and throwing up his arms at Patricia. Yes, Patricia is struggling, but Belichick might not like how Jones is handling himself.
So if Belichick takes Patricia’s side, then perhaps the Patriots will look to trade Jones for a third-round pick — or somewhere about there. And they can work with backup QB Bailey Zappe, who was solid in relief of Jones during his ankle injury, or find another quarterback in this year’s draft.
You’d have to wonder if McDaniels might come calling. Derek Carr has felt like the Raiders’ fill-in solution for years — but never the long-term solution. And while McDaniels seems like an obvious candidate to make a run at pending free-agent Tom Brady this offseason, it’s not outside the realm of possibility for the Raiders coach to also make a run at Jones, if he becomes available.
And if that sounds crazy, consider the on-field scene after Sunday’s game. McDaniels and Jones embraced while Belichick waited, with McDaniels delivering a message into the QB’s ear. Surely, they were words of encouragement. Surely, McDaniels appreciates Jones.
And if Belichick doesn’t? Well, then perhaps Jones ends up in a Raiders jersey next year — partially as a byproduct of this game (and that loathsome lateral).
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Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.
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