LAS VEGAS — The Las Vegas Raiders NFL team played their first regular-season home game in front of fans at Allegiant Stadium on Monday night, taking on the Baltimore Ravens in a nationally televised matchup.
The Raiders won the game in overtime when quarterback Derek Carr found wide receiver Zay Jones wide open for a 31-yard touchdown reception to win the contest 33-27 and send the near-capacity crowd into a frenzy. Oddly enough, the final play marked the first and only time the Raiders had led the entire game, as Las Vegas had trailed 14-0 early on but had later rallied back to tie the score on three separate occasions.
The exciting finish seemed a more than fitting way for the Raiders to properly break in their new home stadium, which has already affectionately been nicknamed by some as “The Death Star.” The Raiders went 8-8 in their inaugural year in Las Vegas last season, but only two of their eight wins came inside Allegiant Stadium, which didn’t permit any fans at home games due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Monday night, however, the place was packed, with a paid attendance of 61,756 inside the enclosed, air-conditioned arena. Fans and other attendees were prescreened for COVID-19 vaccinations. Masks were still encouraged but optional, with many choosing not to wear them.
One thing that many fans did choose to wear were black Raiders jerseys. Although a good percentage of the crowd’s shirts were replicas of those worn by current popular players like Carr’s No. 4 and tight end Darren Waller’s No. 83, there were plenty of vintage uniforms seen as well, including those bearing the names and numbers of Hall of Famers such as Ken Stabler, Ronnie Lott and Jim Otto.
The atmosphere inside the stadium throughout the game could best be described as festive, with exuberant fans excitedly milling around like kids in a candy store. Many folks were seen loading up on food and beverages at the arena’s 30-plus dining areas, which range from upscale clubs to concession stands. The food offerings run a similar gamut, ranging from fancy items like sushi rolls, lobster tails and gourmet hamburger to far more routine (and cheaper) fare such as hot dogs, pretzels, peanuts, sodas, nachos and popcorn, any of which can all be had for $3 a pop, as part of the arena’s “house deal” specials.
St. George resident Steve Johnson, who tweeted a short video before the game taken from stands behind the south end zone, told St. George News he’s just happy to be able to attend NFL games in person.
— Steve Johnson (@SBJ_DSUSID) September 13, 2021
“We were kind of bummed last year because we missed out on the first home game, with Drew Brees and New Orleans,” Johnson said of the Raiders’ 34-24 win over the Saints in Week 2 last season. “I had my eye on that game. I also had that my eye on the game between the Raiders and Buffalo that first weekend in October, because I was all geared up for that.”
Johnson noted that he’s more of a Buffalo Bills fan than a Raiders fan, but said he appreciates the Las Vegas team officials crediting him with the money he’d paid for last year’s season tickets and applying it toward this year’s passes.
Following Monday night’s game, Johnson said he was impressed.
“The Raiders did a did a really good job with with putting the game together,” said Johnson, who works as an associate athletic director for Dixie State University. “The venue was fantastic. You knew they had to be on top of their game with a national prime-time audience. You knew the whole production was coming because it was a Monday Night Football game and it was first regular-season game in Vegas with fans.”
Johnson said the game ranks highly among his favorites among the several NFL games he’s attended in person.
“I put it right up there with with my first one back in in 1995,” he said, referring to the marquee matchup when John Elway’s Broncos defeated Jim Kelly’s Bills 22-7 in the season opener at Mile High Stadium in Denver.
For NFL fans in Utah, the Raiders’ relocation to Las Vegas brings professional football action to a less than a two-hour drive away from St. George. Previously, the closest teams in geographic proximity were the Arizona Cardinals and the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers, with each home stadium located about 400 miles away from Utah’s southwest corner.
Cedar High School head football coach Josh Bennett, who has been an avid Raiders fan for more than 20 years, told St. George News he enjoyed watching the game Monday night on TV with his sons.
Bennett says he’s already looking forward to making the drive to Vegas a couple times this season.
“I’m going to try to find a weekend where we’re not as busy with our football season going on,” he said. “We’re planning to go down and see at least one or two games.”
The first player to score Monday night happened to have Utah ties, as Baltimore running back Ty’Son Williams played collegiate ball at BYU. His scrambling 35-yard touchdown run up the middle late in the first quarter gave the Ravens a 7-0 lead.
Down 14-0 in the second quarter, the Raiders then got on the scoreboard with a 2-yard TD run by Josh Jacobs. Las Vegas then added a 34-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to close the gap to 14-10 at the halftime break.
The only score of the third quarter was a 40-yard field goal by Baltimore’s Justin Tucker midway through the period, pushing the Ravens’ lead back up to seven points, 17-10.
Early in the fourth, Jacobs rushed for a 15-yard TD that tied the score 17-17, but the Ravens answered with their own TD a few minutes later, on a spinning 8-yard run up the middle by new free agent signee Latavius Murray, who once played for the Raiders.
The Raiders then countered with a nine-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in a 10-yard touchdown pass from Carr to tight end Waller, tying the score 24-24 with just under four minutes left in regulation.
Baltimore made it as far as the Las Vegas 29-yard line on its next drive as the final minutes ticked away, but the Ravens ultimately had to settle for a 47-yard field goal on fourth-and-2 with 42 seconds remaining.
With the Raiders trailing 27-24 in the final minute of regulation, Carr completed two quick passes to Bryan Edwards, for 20 and 18 yards, respectively, spiking the ball to stop the clock after both plays. As there were only seven seconds remaining on the clock after the last play, the Raiders opted to bring in the kicking team for a long field goal to tie the game. Kicker Daniel Carlson’s 55-yard went through the uprights, ending regulation with the score tied 27-27.
The Raiders won the coin toss to start the 10-minute extra period and opted to receive. On the sixth play of the drive, Carr connected with Edwards for what initially appeared to be a 33-yard game winning TD, but the score was nullified by the officials after further review showed the ball had not broken the plane of the end zone when Edwards’ knee first touched the turf. The ball was spotted inside the 1-yard line instead, and play continued as thousands of fans begrudgingly went back to their seats.
Things went downhill from there a bit, as Las Vegas was unable to make it into the end zone despite starting just inches away. The Raiders’ next running play was stopped short, after which a 5-yard false start penalty backed them up to just beyond the 5-yard line. That was followed by an incomplete pass and then an interception that ricocheted off another player before being snagged in the end zone by Baltimore cornerback Anthony Averett.
After that rather disastrous sequence by the Raiders, Baltimore took over at its own 20-yard line and had just advanced 13 yards upfield when Raider defensive end Carl Nassib sacked Baltimore quarterback Larmar Jackson on third down, forcing a fumble that Las Vegas fortuitously recovered.
Just two plays later, Carr’s pass to Jones ended the game sudden-death style, sending thousands of black-and-silver clad fans home happy. It marked the first time since 2004 that Baltimore had lost a game in which it had led by 14 points or more, breaking a streak of 98 games, according to ESPN, which televised Monday night’s contest.
Carr ended up completing 34-of-56 passes for 435 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.
During the press conference after the game, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden described the wild game’s back-and-forth craziness by joking, “I felt like I died and woke up … and died again. I had multiple lives tonight.”
Meanwhile, closer to St. George, the Eureka Casino and William Hill Sportsbook co-hosted a watch party in Mesquite, where Fox Sports Southern Utah radio hosts Mark Musgrave and Kaden Foremaster broadcast a special edition of their “From the Bleachers” show, which airs from 4-6 p.m. on weekday afternoons on 99.5 FM in St. George, after which they stayed and handed out Raiders swag to the dozens in attendance. The duo’s next such appearance will another Monday night game, when be when they’ll be at the Eureka Casino when the Raiders play the Chargers in Los Angeles on Oct. 4.
The Las Vegas Raiders’ next home game is against the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 26.
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