A pitchers’ duel broke out in Oakland between a couple of hurlers who didn’t really have it a week earlier but who played hotter on Sunday than the weather that had tens of thousands fanning away the late-summer heat.
In the end, it was the starter for the home team who came through with the biggest strike of the day, in the bottom of the fourth – quarter, that is – when Raiders quarterback Derek Carr threw a low fastball in the end zone to Seth Roberts.
The home run with 26 seconds left on the scoreboard traveled all of 12 yards, accounting for the final total of 351 that Carr accumulated on the day. The figure was not quite as impressive as the 384 yards his counterpart, Joe Flacco, rang up for the Baltimore Ravens. But Carr’s three touchdowns bettered his opponent’s by one, and his last scoring toss of the day was the capper in a 37-33 Oakland victory.
It was the main reason Raiders fans today can see it was not completely crazy before the season started to think theirs is a team that might be going somewhere in the first year of new coach Jack Del Rio’s era, and it’s the reason they feel much better about themselves and their team today than one week ago.
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Ugliness defined the Raiders’ opening-day loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, a 33-13 disaster that washed despair on the shores of the East Bay.
Nobody involved in the operations of the Oakland football organization admitted to desperation, however. The loss to Cincinnati was just one game, they said. It would not define the Raiders’ season, their thinking went, even if it didn’t calm the forlorn feelings of the faithful who were ready to write off this season as a loser, or at least a non-winner, as has been the case with the Oakland franchise every year since 2002.
You had a feeling things might be different for the Raiders on Sunday when they got a first down on their first series and a touchdown right after that, when Carr found rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper open deep and hit him with a 68-yard pass.
In the third quarter, Carr rekindled a bad memory from last week. He kept the ball on a run around left end. In the same situation last week, he stuck his mitt in the face of Bengals bad boy defensive back Adam “Pacman” Jones and was rewarded for the stiff-arm with a badly damaged thumb that rendered him unfit for duty for the rest of the opener.
Rather than a fracture, as initially feared, it was only a sprain. Yet here Carr was again, against Baltimore, running left. But this time, he had the sense to run out of bounds before anybody approached him.
The gain went for 24 yards. Carr celebrated the occasion of not hurting himself by taking a half-roll to his left on the next play, squaring to his right and throwing the ball to Michael Crabtree around the goal line. Crab is better equipped to fight off the opposition for the extra yard, and he did a wonderful job of it in that circumstance to extend the football into the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown.
Carr-to-Crab produced a 10-point Oakland lead, but Flacco and the Ravens turned it into a three-point deficit with 2:10 to go, which only set up the home team’s last at-bat.
“I just told the guys in the huddle, ‘Believe it; we’ve done this a thousand times,’ ” Carr said.
I just told the guys in the huddle, ‘Believe it; we’ve done this a thousand times.
Quarterback Derek Carr on the Raiders’ winning drive
For the second-year quarterback out of Fresno State, every one of those other two-minute drills for winning touchdowns only took place in practice. If there were a thousand of them, it only matched the thousand deaths Raiders fans suffered in the past week as the optimism of the preseason eroded in the stinkeroo they unveiled against Cincinnati.
Carr and the Raiders kept the Cincinnati debacle in perspective. And they promise to do the same with Sunday’s win over a team that makes the playoffs just about every year and in recent seasons has demonstrated an ability to win the Super Bowl about twice every decade and a half.
“We had a big jump from Week 1 to Week 2,” Carr said. “That’s good, and that’s great. But one thing about this team and one thing we’ve learned is, it’s just one game. We have to have a bigger jump from Week 2 to Week 3. As long as we continue to do that, we’re heading in the right place. We’re heading the right way. And this is proof of it.”
The boss said there was never any real fear about Carr’s status for the second game of the year. As soon as last Monday, Carr told Del Rio he felt fine.
It sure looked that way beforehand when he went as far as to slap high-fives with the throwing hand he stuck last week in Pacman’s mug.
“Threw the ball well all week and prepared hard all week,” Del Rio said of Carr. “It was a normal week in those respects.”
Del Rio called Carr’s 30-of-46 Sunday with one interception and the three TDs as well as the 351 yards “a testament to his will, his desire and his willingness to do the extra things to get his body to recover.”
It probably helped that Baltimore’s best defensive player, linebacker Terrell Suggs, was nowhere on the pitch. An Achilles’ injury suffered last week in Denver cost Suggs his season. The Ravens are still known for defense, but not one of its members took down Carr in the pocket while he still had the ball, and it had damn few other hits on him.
So it ended Sunday with Carr throwing a complete game and coming out of it with a win against a one-time Super Bowl MVP. It came very early in the season, but it looked like a piece of work that could keep his team in the pennant race, when only a week ago people had the Raiders on the verge of elimination.
“After last week, it’s probably easy for guys to say, ‘Man, here we go again,’ ” Carr said. “But we didn’t because it’s not like that way anymore. It’s a new team. It’s a new culture.”