Henry Ruggs III gets redemption with last-second touchdown, Raiders win

As the football floated through the frigid New Jersey sky for what seemed like an eternity, one thought flashed through Henry Ruggs III's mind.

"I just had to find it," he said, "and make the play."

No, the Las Vegas Raiders' rookie receiver wasn't wondering why in the world the New York Jets would leave him in single coverage with no safety help over the top. Nor was he marinating on the two bad plays he had earlier in the game: an interception that bounded off his fingers when he stretched for a slightly high Derek Carr pass across the middle, perhaps seeing linebacker Tarell Basham closing in on his exposed ribs, and a lost fumble on a 12-yard catch-and-run near midfield that resulted in the Jets' taking a late lead.

The truth is Ruggs was simply waiting for Carr's prayer to be answered -- by him.

It was third-and-10, and the Raiders, trailing by four points, were at the Jets' 46-yard line with 13 seconds left -- not just in the game but also, with a loss to a winless team, probably in the competitive phase of the Raiders' season.

A loss to the Jets would have been that bad.

Carr had been harassed all day by a better-than-advertised Jets pass rush that made him uncomfortable at best and rattled at worst. Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, thinking that Carr could not handle the rush with the game on the line, sent the house. Eight players rushed Carr.

"We were trying to create pressure," Jets coach Adam Gase said. "[Carr] hadn't done well with it all game."

And yet ...

"I couldn't believe they all-out blitzed us," Carr said. "But as soon as I saw it, I was thankful."

Indeed, Carr, who badly underthrew and then shockingly overthrew Nelson Agholor in the end zone in the previous 100 seconds, thought the Jets would go with a "soft coverage" to keep the Raiders in front of them.

"And make us try to throw a little out-route or something to get into position to throw one into the end zone," Carr said. "And, sure enough, I saw the safeties start cheating over. I saw the nickel [cornerback] start creeping in, the WILL linebacker start creeping in, the MIKE start walking up, and I was like, 'Oh, buddy.'

"You've got to take a breath because you've got to make the right call. You've got to make sure everyone's on it, and then you've just got to execute."

Ruggs was on the outside, on the left, facing up against a fellow rookie in cornerback Lamar Jackson, undrafted out of Nebraska. Were it not for a huge blitz pickup in the backfield by running back Jalen Richard, Carr would not have had the wherewithal to step up into the pocket and let it fly.

"We were down to the wire," Ruggs said. "We knew we needed a play, and Coach dialed up the double move. And once I'm coming off the ball, I kind of see that it's there, and I got the DB [Jackson] to flip his hips, and once I looked back, it felt like the ball was in the air forever, like it just couldn't come down.

"Once I gave them the inside move to make it seem like it was an inside route, he flipped his hips, and from there, I just had to use my speed to make a play."

The ball came down like a punt, almost, into Ruggs' waiting arms, good for redemption with five seconds to go.

Raiders 31, Jets 28. The Raiders' playoff hopes? Still alive.

"It didn't even feel real to me," said Las Vegas tight end Darren Waller, who had his own otherworldly game, with 13 catches for 200 yards.

Ruggs was the fastest player at the combine, running a 4.27-second 40. He was also the surprise first receiver taken, at No. 12 overall, in what promised to be a historically deep draft at the position.

But his stat-driven production through 11 games had not been worthy of such a lofty draft slot. And with his two earlier miscues -- yikes.

"A lot of guys would hang their head and go in the tank," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. "For him to win that game for us, it just says a lot about the football character that he has and we have."

It also speaks to Carr's trust in Ruggs, who finished with three catches for 84 yards.

"It's just what he's proven to me over time," Carr said. "He comes from a great program at Alabama, where their guys are tough. If you play there, you're a tough guy. You're tough-minded.

"He gets punched in the mouth, he's going to stand back up, and he's going to give you everything he's got again. He gave us all 4.2 [speed] of it on that last play because I threw it as high as I could and just prayed that he'd run under it. I thank Mr. [Mike] Mayock for drafting that man because I don't know how many guys would have went and got that football."

Ruggs, who has 20 catches for 396 yards and two TDs on the season, acknowledged that the pick and fumble at his hands were weighing on him earlier in the game.

The specific thought?

"My dad was not going to be happy," Ruggs said with a laugh. "I came into this game knowing that his birthday is tomorrow, so, of course, he's watching, and then I had to make some plays to make him proud. The way the game was going, the bad plays that I had, I knew he wouldn't be happy with the way [the] game was going. I wasn't happy with it. I knew at some point in the game, I had to come back and make a play to make up for it. It just happens that Coach called my number at the end of the game.

"To make a play like that, it only boosts my confidence up to know that I'm a guy that can make plays in this league, no matter the situation."