CINCINNATI -- With apologies to The Beatles, the Las Vegas Raiders' magical mystery tour has finally come to an end. And an inevitable breakup of core pieces of the team, which won four straight nail-biters to get into the playoffs as the No. 5 seed, could be in the offing after a season of unimaginable adversity, walk-off wins and unspeakable tragedy.
The 26-19 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium in the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs not only sent the Raiders to an uncertain offseason -- general manager Mike Mayock, interim coach Rich Bisaccia and quarterback Derek Carr are no sure bets to return -- but also extended Las Vegas' winless streak in the playoffs to three.
"It was a group of men that really learned how to care for one another, really learned how to compete with relentless effort to the bitter end, day in and day out and proved not only as players, but as men. We just ran out of time today," Bisaccia said. "We did some uncharacteristic things with some penalties and gave up some drives and didn't capitalize when we had it in the red zone.”
Indeed, the Raiders have been to the postseason twice since playing in Super Bowl XXXVII following the 2002 season and last won a playoff game on Jan. 19, 2003, in the AFC title game against the Tennessee Titans.
"Honestly, I'm just trying to hold back emotion because I didn't plan on that happening," Carr said. "I didn't expect it to have to go that way. I just felt so confident in the game, gameplan, and so it's just hard right now."
Describe the game in two words: Goodbye, hello. Good riddance to such a trying season, hello to being able to exhale while wondering, what's next?
Troubling trend: The Raiders' rebuilt offensive line, which improved as it seemed to find its identity down the stretch, took many steps back against the Bengals. Every starting member of the line -- left tackle Kolton Miller, left guard John Simpson, center Andre James, right guard Alex Leatherwood, right tackle Brandon Parker -- picked up a penalty on Saturday. In fact, in a fourth-quarter scoring drive, they had three holding penalties, becoming just the second team in the past 20 seasons to have that many on a single drive of a playoff game, joining the 2014 Carolina Panthers.
Las Vegas also pulled off that trifecta once in the regular season, getting flagged three times for the same penalty on a drive against the Chicago Bears in Week 5. All other teams did it three times combined, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Talk about growing pains.
Bold prediction for next week: It's not so much a prediction as much as affirmation of what has been known in Las Vegas since Jon Gruden resigned amid his email controversy on Oct. 11 -- the Raiders will begin the process of interviewing for a head coach (yes, interim coach Bisaccia, who weathered the storm to go 7-6, including the playoffs, will be a candidate) and owner Mark Davis will also have to make decisions on Mayock and Carr, who only has one year remaining on his contract.
QB breakdown: Carr's playoff debut was not what he hoped for, obviously, but his play wasn't the reason the Raiders lost, either. Even though his lost fumble on a sack in the first quarter resulted in a Bengals field goal, and his interception at the Bengals' 2-yard line ended the game.
Carr was not as sharp as fans are accustomed to seeing -- he was just 29-of-54 for 310 yards with a TD and the game-ending INT. And he again came to life late. But trading field goals for TDs and recurring red zone issues doomed Las Vegas. Las Vegas was 27th in red zone efficiency in the regular season (TDs on 52% of red-zone trips), the worst of any playoff team, and was just 1-of-5 against the Bengals.
And as clutch as Carr has been at times this season, the interception with 12 seconds left was his ninth turnover in the fourth quarter or OT this season, including playoffs. That's the most by any player in the NFL.
"Everything is frustrating right now. I didn't expect it to go this way ... all the way up until the last couple seconds," Carr said. "It just sucks when you get in that situation. You've got to throw it into the end zone and try to get some hands on it. I wish we would have executed a little better earlier on so it didn't come down to that.
"I just tried to throw it hard to where the guy wouldn't catch it. [Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt] made a great catch."
Pivotal play: The Bengals were seemingly gifted a touchdown late in the second quarter when a referee's whistle blew in the middle of Joe Burrow's 10-yard pass to Tyler Boyd. It was third down and, by the rule book, the play should have been whistled dead. Instead, it appeared as though Raiders DBs, especially safety Tre'von Moehrig, let up on the play. The NFL was expected to make a statement on the play after the game.