DENVER — The Denver Broncos had the Las Vegas Raiders on the brink of defeat.
Coming out of the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter, Denver faced a 3rd-and-10 from their own 34-yard line.
Clinging to a 16-13 lead, Nathaniel Hackett had two options.
With the Raiders out of timeouts, the Broncos could have run the ball, accepting they likely wouldn’t get the first down and then punt the ball, putting the game in the hands of their defense. The benefit of this option is as long as the ball carrier didn’t go out of bounds, Denver would have run an additional 40 seconds off the clock since Las Vegas was out of timeouts. That would have given the Raiders just over a minute to get into field goal range.
The other option was to pass the ball and attempt to get a first down. The upside of this was a first down ends the game. The risk is if the pass is incomplete, it stops the clock and saves the Raiders roughly 40 seconds for when they re-take possession.
Hackett and the Broncos gambled, choosing the latter in an attempt to win the game.
“We were discussing whether or not we wanted to run the ball. We wanted to give ourselves a chance to be able to close the game out and win it. So we called a pass,” the head coach said after the game. “You have to keep the clock running one way or the other. Whether you take a shot down the field and you try to go up. Maybe get a P.I. (pass interference) opportunity because if you do catch it, you have a chance to win the game, and it’s great. If it doesn’t, the one thing we just want to be sure that the clock is running if we can. It lets us have a chance at a shot to win the game.”
Hackett went for the win.
It ended up being a major factor in Denver’s loss.
Lining up in shotgun, Russell Wilson rolled right looking for options to open up down the field. When no options opened up, Wilson tossed the ball 18 yards downfield not close to any receivers.
The play resulted in an incompletion — exactly what Denver couldn’t afford. Instead of draining over 40 seconds, the clock stopped at 1:53.
Hackett stated he communicated with Wilson before the play about the decision to pass and go for the win.
“We wanted to be able to take a shot down the field,” Hackett explained. “We knew what kind of coverage they were going to be in but if something happened in the pocket or anything like that, that’s one of those situations, you can take a sack or you can just run the ball.”
But instead of doing either, Wilson tossed an incompletion.
“We called a pass play to kind of end the game basically right there. You get a first down, the game’s over,” No. 3 explained. “They kind of covered it up pretty good. I tried to get outside of the pocket and [Jalen] Virgil was kind of scrambling down. I thought I had him, and I tried to take a shot to him. The ball just kind of went away from him a little bit.”
Wilson wasn’t intending to throw the ball away. It just “went away” from where he wanted it to.
On the ensuing drive, the Raiders went 70 yards in 1:27 to tie the game and send it to overtime. Las Vegas wouldn’t have had 1:27 to work with if Denver would have ran 40 seconds off.
That was the last time the Broncos’ offense had a meaningful drive on Sunday. On the Raiders’ third play of overtime, Derek Carr found Davante Adams for a 35-yard walk-off touchdown.
Denver tried for the walk-off first down coming out of the two-minute warning. Instead, it helped lead to Davante Adams waving goodbye to the crowd as he crossed into the end zone in overtime.