True, the boos were more tepid and less frequent than in the recent past. For much of the last decade, players were advised to wear earplugs at O.co Coliseum. The Black Hole threatened to chew them up and spit them out. A leap into the stands was harmful to the health. Fans still don’t know whether their team is coming or going, and are debating whether last Sunday’s loss was (a) a freak occurrence or (b) a function of ongoing organizational dysfunction.
Yet in the aftermath of Sunday’s rotten tomato-esque performance, an effort openly characterized as an embarrassment by several players, there are reasons to remain at least mildly intrigued – to cancel plans for burning those silver-and-black replica jerseys – and primarily this one: Quarterback Derek Carr will start Sunday against the Ravens. His stiff-arm to Bengals cornerback Adam Jones bruised his throwing hand and forced him to leave the game in the second quarter, but it didn’t tear any tendons or fracture any bones, which is a massive break given the alternatives.
One of those not contributing to the boos that descended on the Coliseum last Sunday? That would be general manager Reggie McKenzie. He knows better than anyone that a serious injury to his strong-armed quarterback would squash the cautiously optimistic mood, be a complete season crusher in terms of projected victories and defeats, and do nothing to enhance his prospects for a contract extension.
Though Carr has yet to establish whether he is the long-term solution at football’s most important position or just another tease, for the immediate future, the former Fresno State standout is the one indispensable Raider. Assume for the moment – for a few days, anyway – that Sunday’s effort was an aberration. Take it one play at a time. Carr is still in the relatively early meet-and-greet stage with new coach Jack Del Rio, wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, and additions to an offensive line that is bigger, faster and presumably will become more adept at opening holes and providing the protection needed for a balanced pass-run offense and more frequent deep, accurate throws.
Carr, who completed 7 of 12 passes for 61 yards in his limited appearance against the Bengals, faces an even more daunting task Sunday against a perennially stout Baltimore Ravens defense that last weekend held the Broncos to four field goals, sacked Peyton Manning four times and relinquished only 219 total yards, the fewest since Manning arrived in Denver.
“We have to be more efficient on first and second down, myself included,” said Carr. “I have to be more efficient in where to throw the football, (recognizing) what coverage are they playing, and what’s the best option. If we’re throwing well, that’s going to help Latavius (Murray). If Latavius is running well, that’s going to help us on the perimeter.”
As he spoke during his weekly press session, he showed few effects – mentally or physically – from the 33-13 thumping. Only a small amount of swelling was visible at the base of his right thumb, and as he talked, his words were accompanied with his familiar free-flowing gestures; position Carr anywhere near a microphone, and his hands are as active as those of Donald Trump.
Carr’s mood was lighthearted, his tone thoughtful and conversational, his words exuding confidence and encouragement. The entire exchange was part pep talk, part political rally. In an aisle-inside-the-locker-room moment, Carr joined his teammates in an improvisational basketball shootout, chortling with delight when the fist-sized foamball found the net.
“It’s one game, guys,” Carr added, offering perspective on the opener. “Was it the way we wanted? Was it ugly? Yeah, it was ugly. It isn’t what we looked like in practice. It wasn’t the flashes we saw in preseason. Sometimes it stinks. Sometimes you get punched in the mouth and you have to answer back.
“There’s no one walking around feeling down. I said it last year and I’ll say it again this year; that’s how you know we’re going the right way. That’s how you know we have the right guys here. We have to come more together to get this thing right. We’re heading the right way. That’s what we want to show our fans.”
The fans obviously need convincing, and the offense was only one of the troubling issues. Penalties, poor performances in the secondary, miscommunications, an abandoned running game. At the very least, fans want to see a hint of improvement, a glimmer of hope. Game 1 was a horror show. Game 2 could be a curtain call.