For a couple of guys who are supposed to be in the process of “tanking” a season to secure the top spot the NFL draft, Jon Gruden and Derek Carr acted Sunday in a manner that suggested a 23-21 road win over the Arizona Cardinals was kind of a big deal.
They acted that way during the game, when at least two disagreements went viral on Twitter. They acted that way after the game, when they were clearly happy and relieved to have snapped a five-game losing streak.
For those who believe in the myth of game-day tanking, your day was ruined the moment Daniel Carlson kicked a 35-yard field goal as time expired.
So what if the Raiders beat the only team in the NFL which was capable of furnishing such a win?
To see coach and quarterback care enough to turn into the bickering Bickersons was something both men needed going forward and served as evidence the Raiders wanted to win in the worst way.
And yes, this was the worst way, given the level of play exhibited by both teams.
Gruden vs. Carr got lots of attention. In reality, it was no worse than Gruden vs. Jeff George, Gruden vs. Donald Hollas, Gruden vs. Rich Gannon, Gruden vs. Brad Johnson, Brian Griese, Chris Simms, Jeff Garcia or any other quarterback you care to name.
The first one came after Carr missed a deep strike to Jalen Richard, isolated on a linebacker, rather than take a safe throw for the first down.
“That’s the first time you’ve seen it, but it isn’t the first time it’s happened,” Gruden said. “We had a man-to-man situation, and he went for the big play. We had a mild disagreement. But you know what? That’s part of this business. We’re going to have times where we clash a little bit.”
It’s what Gruden does, or used to do. Considering the way the Raiders have played this season, you could make the argument Gruden has been too easy on Carr. He used to stay up nights thinking of ways to apply the needle to Gannon, and it was time to drop the kid gloves act.
Carr may not swear and is painfully polite on Monday through Saturday, but he’s got his own fiery side. He’s shot some pretty serious glares at receivers who run the wrong route, including one directed at Seth Roberts in the fourth quarter before the veteran came up with the play that set up the game-winning field goal.
Clashing with the head coach in this case is a good thing. If Gruden and Carr are going to succeed as head coach and CEO quarterback, it shouldn’t be smooth and easy. Especially after a five-game losing streak.
“We’re both yelling the same kinds of things, a
just fix it’ kind of a deal,” Carr said. “It’s not the first time. I doubt it will be the last time. Everything’s good, I promise.”
Carr came through when it mattered, with a 32-yard pass to rookie Marcell Ateman and then a 20-yard quick screen to Roberts to set up Carlson with the winning points. It took some seriously poor clock management from Arizona down the stretch to make it happen.
It came after the Raiders had nothing but walkthroughs on an off-site indoor facility that didn’t have hash marks and wasn’t big enough for a football team, a minor inconvenience giving the devastation of the Paradise Camp Fire.
During the game, wide receiver Brandon LaFell was lost with an Achilles injury that will likely end his season. Doug Martin, the leading rusher in the first half, sat out the second half with an ankle injury.
So Frostee Rucker, a former Cardinal who along with Ateman and Carlson got game balls, made it clear afterward he wasn’t about to belittle the effort or pretend it was just another game. He was proud to be a part of it and said as much.
As it stands, the 49ers vaulted to the top spot with six games remaining, followed by the Cardinals, and then the Raiders, with all three teams at 2-8.
That’s not to say the Raiders couldn’t still get the top pick, but that’s not their goal, and never has been. Not on game days, anyway.
The whole notion that Gruden would coach to lose and that the Raiders would play to lose on Sunday is laughable. Many of the fans and media who rue a late-season victory for draft purposes would never consider doing their own jobs halfway.
Go ahead and attach the term “tanking” to the trades that sent Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper out of town to add to their draft cache in the first round because it was a move made for 2019 that weakened a roster in 2018. But trying to lose on Sunday is a preposterous notion that exceeds all boundaries of logic and common sense. It doesn’t take into account the competitive nature of those who have reached the pinnacle of their professions.
It’s because of those transactions that the Raiders really don’t have to be concerned with the No. 1 overall pick, because they’ll be in position to move up to No. 1 if there is a player they absolutely must have.
But that’s a discussion for April 25, when the first round commences in Nashville, and it was the farthest thing from the minds of Gruden, Carr, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and the rest of the most beleaguered Raiders team in memory.
The Raiders aren’t necessarily a better team because they beat the Cardinals, but they were at least a team that cared enough not to lose.
Gruden and Carr simply provided the exclamation point.