Derek Carr is their guy, their leader, their star quarterback, so when he fell on his sword after Sunday’s knee-buckling loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, he was right in one sense.
This is on him.
On his back. On his ankle. On his health.
The Raiders began the season with a few different wrinkles, but not looking all that differently from the squad that went 12-4 a year ago, rallied for seven victories in the final minutes and had squeezed into the Super Bowl conversation before Carr was sacked and broke his leg on Christmas Eve.
The stunning announcement that the franchise was moving to Las Vegas at some future date aside, the mood for 2017-18 was upbeat, at times downright frisky, right down to the familiar silver and black swagger.
And why not? Marshawn Lynch came out of retirement and brought his power tools back to his hometown. Cordarrelle Patterson, an explosive, multidimensional playmaker, signed as a free agent. Amari Cooper was a year older, Michael Crabtree was settled into his new environment. Together, with a maturing, ascending Carr orchestrating the offense and providing an emotional stability amid the storm (that pending, potentially distracting move to Las Vegas), most preseason projections had the Raiders’ potent offense adequately compensating for a defense with weaknesses at linebacker and in the secondary.
That was the plan, anyway. A flawed plan, apparently.
The Raiders’ 17-16 loss to the Chargers as time expired is merely the latest in a season of stunners – of kicks to the gut, as it were.
When was the last time a failed point-after attempt proved to be the difference between overtime and a fourth consecutive defeat?
“I had a bad snap,” veteran long snapper Jon Condo said after holder Marquette King stretched to gather the ball. “Marquette did a good job getting it down and Giorgio (Tavecchio) did the best that he could to get it through. I said I’m sorry and this is my fault. I let the team down. The team practices all week to go out there and do their job. It just seems like when it rains, it pours for us. Nothing has gone right for us.”
The miscues and missteps that occurred on an otherwise splendid afternoon, with a backdrop of a welcoming blue sky and the Oakland hills visible in the background, include the following: the botched PAT that left the Raiders ahead only 16-14 with eight minutes remaining; consecutive blown coverages on Chargers tight end Hunter Henry, who was wide open on the right side on almost identical plays for 34 and 23 yards, respectively, on the winning drive; little pressure on Philip Rivers, allowing the veteran quarterback to pick apart the Raiders secondary, particularly over the middle; Raiders coach Jack Del Rio gambling on fourth-and-two from the Chargers 41 as the fourth period began, only to watch Carr miss on a short pass to Crabtree and give the visitors excellent field position.
But back to Carr. It always comes back to Carr. After injuring his back against the Denver Broncos in Week 4 and sitting out last week’s defeat to the Baltimore Ravens, he returned to practice last week, still experiencing considerable pain, but acutely aware of his club’s diminishing postseason prospects.
The trouble was, this wasn’t Carr. Though he downplayed any discomfort afterward, he completed 21 of 30 passes for 171 yards, but threw two interceptions. His passes lacked their customary zip – and accuracy. On the Raiders’ opening possession, his pass to Crabtree on the right side was badly overthrown and picked off by cornerback Trevor Williams. He seemed equally disappointed that a late Raiders drive stalled, giving Rivers plenty of time to direct the deciding drive.
“I’m not going to lie to you,” Carr said later. “I’m really frustrated. We work too hard for that kind of stuff to happen. It had nothing to do with my back. Sometimes these things happen in life where you think you’re doing a good job of certain things, especially as a leader, but then it’s not going the right way. At the end of the day, this is my fault. It’s not my players’ fault, not my teammates’ fault. Maybe I can explain things better. Whatever it is. They’re just going to go as I go. So it’s my fault. I have to figure out a way to communicate what we need.”
Typically, even when pressed, Carr gives everyone else a pass. He refused to blame his coaches, declined to question the schemes, shook off the effects of a practice schedule that was limited because of poor weather conditions.
Asked if the offense was simplified, more reliant on short, quick passes to protect him against the Chargers’ pressure, he shook his head. “There was no talk of trying to get the ball out of my hands, or ‘don’t take hits’ or anything. We were out there playing.”
The weather might have turned in their favor, but the calendar is formidable. The next game not only is against the division rival Kansas City Chiefs, but it’s on Thursday, once again limiting practice time. But again, no excuses.
“There’s something missing,” Carr added. “I’ll figure it out. We’re going to figure it out because I’m not going to feel like this my whole season, my whole career. I refuse.”