Chandler Jones, from his home Sunday night, knew the end of the Raiders’ 30-24 win over the Patriots was stunning and strange, but he didn’t know it was historic.
So he asked me: “You’ve been covering the game for a long time—how do you see it?”
I’m not positive, I said. But I think it’s the most incredible end to a game I’ve seen since, well, maybe since the Immaculate Reception.
“Do you know about that?” I asked.
“Refresh me,” he said.
“Raiders-Steelers playoff game, 50 years ago this week,” I said. “Steelers down 7-6, fourth down, 22 seconds left, at their 40-yard line. Terry Bradshaw throws, it caroms either off a Steelers running back or Jack Tatum, the Raider safety, and Franco Harris either traps it or picks it off near the ground, and he runs for a touchdown. Steelers win.”
“Pretty amazing,” Jones said.
“Here’s what’s amazing,” I said. “You go to Pittsburgh for Raiders-Steelers this week on the 50th anniversary of the game.”
Jones soaked it in for a minute. The enormity of what just happened was hitting him now.
“It will be hard for me to fall asleep tonight,” Chandler Jones said.
So how does one of the most shocking plays in modern NFL history occur?
This is how the 48-yard Jones “fumble recovery” (seriously, that’s how it will go down in history) happened:
Pats 24, Raiders 24, three seconds left, New England ball at its 45-yard line, last play of the fourth quarter. Overtime beckoned. Pats decided not to throw a Hail Mary, because they didn’t have confidence Mac Jones could fling a high arcing ball 60 yards. So Jones handed it to Rhamondre Stevenson, who’d try to find his way 55 yards downfield, somehow.
Maybe we all were expecting the Patriots to play for overtime, which was the stratagem here. Bill Belichick certainly was. Most of the Raiders were. But Chandler Jones told me he expected the Patriots to take a shot to score right there.
“It was a desperado situation,” Jones said over the phone from Nevada, “and that was a team that would try to do anything to advance the ball for a touchdown. They’ll throw the ball, pitch it, lateral it. I knew that was a possibility to happen. I thought they would do a hook-and-lateral, or something like that. They had a random run.
“I actually missed a tackle on [Stevenson]. I went to go punch the ball out on that play and I missed. The guy kept running. By the time I stood up, I realized that the ball was being pitched around.”
On FOX, Kenny Albert and Jonathan Vilma thought the Patriots would try something, but nothing dangerous. The sound of their voices, at first, was pretty calm.
Albert: “Stevenson is inside the 30. Flips it back. Stanford band nowhere in sight.”
“They were playing hot potato now,” Jones told me. “Instead of pursuing the ball, I just started playing back into saying, alright who’s the next passer? Who could they possibly throw it to next that’s behind the line of scrimmage? Because they’re playing this whole hot potato game. Sure enough, I saw Jakobi Meyers kinda look back at Mac Jones, the quarterback. He was standing in the middle of the field. I literally just jumped up when I saw the ball coming, intended for Mac. Mac was kind of standing there, looking at me with big eyes.”
This seemed crazy, and it was: Meyers threw the ball 22.9 yards on the backward pass intended for Jones, per Next Gen Stats. That’s not just a little lateral. That’s the equivalent of a good downfield pass.
Albert: “IT’S PICKED OFF!”
Vilma: “Uh-oh! Oh no!”
“I literally just jumped up and intercepted it,” Jones said. “I just gave Mac a nice stiff arm with my right hand. The rest was history.”
Albert: “INCREDIBLE! Chandler Jones [crossing the goal line] takes it in! And wins the game! For the Raiders! Have you ever seen an ending like that!!!”
Vilma: “I have NEVER seen anything like that. I have no idea why he was doing that. Oh my goodness!”
“Crazy he threw it back,” said Derek Carr.
“I didn’t see the dude there,” Meyers said later. “I was trying to do too much. I shoulda just gone down with the ball.”
Meyers had no instructions to throw it—and certainly not to throw it 23 yards.
Albert: “An unbelievable ending here in Las Vegas.”
Vilma: “I thought I had seen it all, Kenny.”
“Shocked?” Jones said. “No, I’m not shocked at all. I mean, I’m happy that I did something to help the team win. But not shocked at all. Honestly, I was trying to catch my breath, to be honest. It felt like a 100-yard run. I was kinda just getting slapped in the side of the face, in the head. Everyone’s congratulating me, ‘Thank you! Thank you!’ And all I could do was just hang onto the football. I remember vividly the football being in my right hand. [Tight end] Foster Moreau, he came up to me and he said, ‘Chandler, give me the ball. I’ll make sure you get it.’ I kinda just let it go. I just let the ball go and I was like man I just need air. And the game was over. It was such a crazy feeling. It was almost like a Hollywood script that’s unwritten because people won’t believe it. There’s no way, you know?”
— NFL (@NFL) December 19, 2022
It’s not shocking to do something like what Meyers did when a team is behind. But tied? Headed for overtime? The backward lateral’s just too dangerous. It can get fumbled or picked off, and it can be returned for a touchdown. That’s what happened.
What’s so uncharacteristic about the play is that Meyers is a very smart player, one of the players Belichick trusts the most. If he’s going to do something like this, what hope is there for this team when times are tight near the end of games?
“This might be one of the dumbest teams I’ve ever seen,” said perturbed colorman Scott Zolak on the Patriots Radio Network.
So now these teams go into the longshot pool for the playoffs. New England, 7-7, and Vegas, 6-8, will have to pull some upsets to be playing after Week 18. As NBC prognosticator Steve Kornacki said Sunday night, the Patriots’ odds to make the postseason dropped to four in 10, and that might be generous—New England closes with three foes who are likely playoff-bound.
“Anything in your football life compare to this?” I asked Jones.
“I won a Super Bowl, Super Bowl 49,” he said. “That was pretty legit. But making a play to win a game? No. Never. I’m 32 in year 11. Better plays are coming with age, I guess.”