O For the better part of an unseasonably warm October afternoon, the Raiders were the daring, dashing swashbucklers of old. O.co Coliseum was rocking. The ball was in the air. The starting quarterback resembled a young, brash Rich Gannon.
So enough of the memories.
Until further notice – until the Raiders start winning – Derek Carr is still a rookie. Talented and intriguing and oozing potential? Yes, yes, yes. His four touchdown passes against the powerful San Diego Chargers on Sunday established a Raiders rookie record.
But that last throw? The deep ball that Chargers cornerback Jason Verrett intercepted with little over a minute remaining? The one that looked like so many of those ill-fated passes Carson Palmer tossed during his forgettable tenure with the Raiders?
While Carr insisted he would take that same risk and make that same throw again and again, interim coach Tony Sparano acknowledged some thought was given to sticking with the underneath routes and attacking a bit more cautiously.
But he went with the kid, who went with his gut, who threw the interception …
“It was a scenario where the coverage dictated where the ball was going to go, and we took the shot,” Sparano said after losing his debut 31-28. “We’re talking about an inch one way or an inch the other way. That’s the nature of our game.”
Verrett, who outleaped and outwrestled 6-foot-3 wideout Brice Butler at about the 5-yard line, actually stands 5-10. The Raiders were that close. A dramatic comeback victory seemed so possible, so probable, that in the end, the crowd was so stunned, you could hear cleats digging into turf.
The Raiders had overcome their poor rushing defense, the inability to pressure Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and five drops by the wideouts in the opening half. The oft-injured Darren McFadden finally provided a productive ground attack, carrying 14 times for 80 yards. The much-maligned defense accounted for key stops, though, as Sparano noted, not enough of them.
But back to Carr. Except for that late mistake, there are plenty of reasons to think the Raiders might soon be ending that other streak, the one where the procession of quarterbacks post-Gannon throws more interceptions than touchdown passes, loses games, lacks leadership and, for the most part, generates little enthusiasm.
Though still not fully recovered from the ankle and knee injuries sustained Sept. 28 against the Miami Dolphins, the 6-3 Carr took Sparano’s wide-open, aggressive playbook and ran with it. Mostly, he zipped passes into tight spaces, lifted long, perfectly placed balls down the sidelines, and when the pocket collapsed, he stepped up and patiently went through his progressions.
“I didn’t change who I was,” the second-round draft choice said, referring to the transition from former coach Dennis Allen, “but (Sparano) said, ‘It’s your team. Take over. You’re the leader of this football team. The franchise … here. Now go.’”
Carr threw 6-yard touchdown passes to James Jones and Andre Holmes, found Butler for a nifty change-of-direction, 47-yard scoring sprint, and shocked the Chargers on a 77-yarder to Holmes over the middle for a touchdown on the third play of the game. Carr, who was seen limping around the locker room after the game, finished 18 of 34 for 282 yards.
Eventually, that stubborn streak should serve him well. He took the loss but remained remarkably upbeat, took over the interview room, in fact, and resisted any encouragement to second-guess that unsuccessful late attempt to Butler.
“It just depends on how you look at it,” Carr said. “You have to give (Verrett) credit. Brice went up. He had it. The guy made a great play. (But) absolutely I’d trust Brice … I’ll throw that 100 times.”
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