It’s been 14 years since the Oakland Raiders made the playoffs. Their last appearance in 2003 culminated in a scintillating (humiliating) 48-21 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII. That team was largely built around the career renaissance of quarterback Rich Gannon, and the ageless receivers in Tim Brown and Jerry Rice.
Fast forward to 2016 and the “other” team of the Bay Area (depending on how you look at the 49ers) in the Raiders has built themselves a much more complete juggernaut.
There’s plenty of young pieces to be excited about here.
Second year receiver Amari Cooper looks like a superstar. Outside linebacker Khalil Mack might be this year’s Defensive Player of the Year. But the straw that stirs the drink here is budding transcendent (yeah, he can be that good) quarterback Derek Carr, who you can be sure head coach Jack Del Rio has full faith in.
In his previous two seasons at the helm of the new Oakland powerhouse offense, Carr has ascended to new heights with each subsequent year of experience.
From an unremarkable 3,270 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 12 intereceptions in 2014 to last year’s supposed breakout of 3,987 yards, 32 touchdowns, and 13 picks, Carr has just about reached the summit. It’s time to preemptively have him in the conversation among the best signal callers in the game because he’ll have his team among the elite within a few weeks.
Just take a look at his performance against the New Orleans Saints in the Raiders’ nail-biting 35-34 win on Sunday.
Carr has come to a fine technical stand point of mastering offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s attack. As all the great ones do, Carr rarely makes an unforced error. He pushes the ball down the field with one of the best arms in football and takes what the defense gives him otherwise. It’s very rare you throw him off even if you pressure him (the Saints defense certainly didn’t do so).
Every field general is a different player while under duress, of course.
The best are those that make an adjustment mid-play, either stepping up in the pocket or breaking contain effortlessly to deliver dime-after-dime after your defense is disorganized. Carr is one of these players. This is a guy that will take complete ownership of the AFC for the next decade or more because of that facet. Poise is the greatest differentiator between NFL teams and players. Carr has it in spades, as do the Raiders.
Carr lit up the Saints going 24-38, with 319 yards and one touchdown, and the thing to wonder as with every game-breaking talent, is whether he could have done more. That’s considering most of his production came in the second half.
Even while the Saints are hardly an intimidating force nature like they were years ago, this is still a difficult team to beat in the Superdome, especially for a young player and team in Carr and the Raiders.
You watch New Orleans take an early 24-10 lead off of a 98-yard-touchdown by Brandin Cooks and you wonder if maybe the Raiders were overhyped. No, it just became a moment of necessary adversity. Carr settled in as the game went on and responded well. After that listless start, the young star went 13-24 with 190 yards to close it out.
That doesn’t seem fantastic per-say until you consider that Oakland scored on it’s last three possessions of the game. In the process, the Raiders converted two of three two-point conversion attempts off of Carr’s arm, with the game winning conversion going to receiver Michael Crabtree. I wish I had a better word than clutch, but it’s perfectly applicable here as it’s a credit to a young quarterback with a young team that has the cliche belief in their ability. It’s all aggressiveness instilled by head coach Jack Del Rio.
In the first game of the first year of your newfound hype you beat future Hall-of-Famer Drew Brees in a shoot-out who was at the top of his game and in his own building. Needless to say, that’s a confidence booster.
I hate to limit it all to Carr because as I said, the Raiders do have a quality team with great game-breaking talent as well as depth. Guys like third-string change of pace running back Jalen Richard are scoring 75-yard touchdowns. Seth Roberts, your third receiver, is pitching in his own score while struggling otherwise. It paints the character of a team ready to burst through a metaphorical banner all led by Carr. He’s supported well.
And speaking of Del Rio, many had derided his hiring in 2015. People believed he was the wrong guy to take the mantle of helping Carr and company get to the next level. He was a “fine” coach in Jacksonville, making three playoff appearances over nine years, but that’s hardly anything to get excited about.
Yet, Sunday afternoon was a microcosm of why Del Rio is perfect for Oakland. Going for two three straight times to close a game would be a nightmare for a coach in the press if his team doesn’t convert. But Del Rio threw out all percentages and fear of negativity in the press because he sees the potential on the field that everyone else does. Screw the tie at 34-34. Go for the win.
Good thing ESPN isn't coaching the Raiders https://t.co/X6tB1YlZ4d
— Jack Del Rio (@coachdelrio) September 11, 2016
Ladies and gentlemen, that man cares not for your odds.
Just let the Raiders and Carr play and they won’t disappoint. Last year, the Raiders were just 15th in two-point attempts. But that was a different team and you know Del Rio knows it in setting the tone from the outset.
In a few years time, the Raiders will be that new team everyone “hates” because of how successful they’ve been. It’s inevitable. And Jack Del Rio is the perfect man to drive that Car(r) to the promised land.
Robert Zeglinski is a managing editor of No Coast Bias, the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times, and is a staff writer for Second City Hockey and Windy City Gridiron. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.