Derek Carr threw too long on one interception Sunday and too short on another, and the next thing the Raiders knew, they were down by two touchdowns with only five shopping days left until Christmas.
Carr’s team was kind of used to this. Just last week, in Denver, it fell behind by two scores to the Broncos. Only this time, it wasn’t a one-time backup in Brock Osweiler who was charged with reviving a championship contender. Instead, it was Aaron Rodgers, and one of the game’s best quarterbacks from Cal calmly fabricated enough points in the second half for the Green Bay Packers to destroy Oakland’s dream of making the playoffs.
Green Bay’s 30-20 win eliminated the Raiders from postseason contention, and the pain appeared evident in the red and watery eyes of Oakland’s coach, Jack Del Rio.
“It’s not the only painful moment,” Del Rio said. “It won’t be the last painful moment. We have a good group of men in there. We’re disappointed tonight it didn’t go the way we wanted it to. We’ve got two more opportunities to go out and play some really good football. We’re looking forward to it.”
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Now, though, the games will take on the feeling of August. They’ll count in the league standings, but they’ll mainly be exhibitions for a team that still has a ton of promise and almost as much to work on before it becomes a regular habitant of the playoffs, like the green and gold team from the Midwest with whom they spent a rainy Sunday afternoon at O.co Coliseum.
You saw the promise in the play of Amari Cooper, the rookie from Alabama who turned in another explosive performance after having gone more than a month without scoring a touchdown. Cooper caught six passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns, the second of which gave the Raiders a 20-17 lead in the third quarter. This was a fairly remarkable achievement for a team that went down by two touchdowns in the first 10 minutes of the game, the result of Carr’s interceptions that demonstrated that despite his many skills as an NFL quarterback, he’s got to figure out a way to stop playing Santa Claus to the other team.
Carr’s first ho-ho-ho in the first quarter came when he underthrew his tight end, Clive Walford, on a third-and-long. The Packers’ Micah Hyde accepted the present on the Raiders’ 36 and ran it back to the 2. Green Bay scored two plays later for the first score of the game.
Damarious Randall was the next Packer to sit on Santa’s knee. Carr had been hoping to make a delivery to Seth Roberts, one of his wideouts, who was open. But Carr’s bail elevated on him, and when Roberts went up to get it, it slipped through his hands and wound up on those of Randall, the Green Bay defender, who returned the interception 43 yards for a touchdown.
In time, Carr got the ball to his own guys instead of Green Bay’s. The two scoring tosses to Cooper in the second and third quarters accounted for the momentary lead, but Rodgers got it going for the Packers and hit former Raider James Jones for a 30-yard touchdown pass to put them back on top.
The Raiders never scored again, and now they’ll be playing exhibitions in December.
Del Rio said the time will come when the Raiders can “reflect on what was” this year. Since his hiring at the conclusion of last year’s 3-13 season, his team has been the subject of major optimism. The front office signed a solid bunch of veteran free agents and drafted some terrific rookies. Everybody on the team turned out for the voluntary workouts in April. At one time this year, the Raiders were 4-3 and flying high after a win over the Jets. Now it’s wait until next year, whether it’s in Oakland or Los Angeles, for a franchise that is considering another move south.
As for this team this year, “you learn where you had opportunities that got away from you,” Del Rio said. In time, “this football team will have that opportunity to do that. Tonight, we understand we weren’t good enough to beat the Packers in today’s game.”
The team’s 39-year-old safety, Charles Woodson, said that despite the Raiders’ strides since last year, the only measure of success that he knows is to reach the Super Bowl. Anything short of that, he believes, is a problem.
“It’s always hard to know this early you’re not in,” Woodson said. “You wish you could play the season out and have it come down to the last game, or to know that you’re in, going into that last game. But that’s not the case.”
Woodson doesn’t know if he’ll be part of the Raiders’ future, but he likes the team’s progress, and young players like Cooper and Carr, “guys that are going to be able to grow along with Jack.”
“You’ve still got to go out to play the last two because that’s what they’re paying you for,” Woodson said.
The next step for the Raiders?
“It’s all about finishing,” Woodson said. “It’s all about the game situations. It’s all about not hurting yourself in the big games, when you have a shot to advance. The other thing is, when you get up on a team, that’s got to be that – you’ve got to win. You’ve got to learn to have that killer instinct.”