The Raiders may have lost to the Chargers Sunday, but in the process, rookie quarterback Derek Carr had a coming out party. The Raiders offense opened up under new head coach Tony Sparano and the result was not just a career game for the rookie quarterback, but a record-setting day.
Carr threw four touchdown passes in this game which set a new Raiders rookie record. Those four touchdown passes matched his previous season total coming in, giving him eight on the season. That too ties a Raiders rookie record with Matt McGloin who had eight touchdown passes in six starts last season.
The rookie quarterback also had several career bests including throwing for 282 yards and a passer rating of 107.7. His one interception in this game came on the final play of the game.
All these numbers could have been higher had it not been for five drops by Raiders receivers in the first half. Marcel Reece, Darren McFadden, Andre Holmes (2), and Mychal Rivera.
With Tony Sparano taking over as head coach, he told Derek Carr he needed to take more of a leadership role on this team. He not only took the reins of the offense, but was given permission to air it out if he saw a coverage he liked.
"We're past the rookie stuff," Carr said after the game. "There's no more rookie. You're the leader of this football team, the franchise, here's the ball, now go. So now it's just I can demand things from guys. I can go up to them and say ‘I really need you to cross this guy's face here' and the answer isn't gonna be ‘ok, rookie, I know it', it's going to be ‘Oh yeah, I got it, I'll do it next time'. Those kind of things. I don't need to go cuss someone out to prove a point. I just go and demand from them just like they'd demand from me."
Tony Sparano likes what he saw in his young quarterback.
"He really played well today," said Sparano. "The kid's a competitive kid. He's just getting better and better and better. On that first touchdown play, they came with a pressure, our guys handled it up front, but Derek getting through the progression and getting the ball to the right guy, that's progress. And he's continuously making progress in several football games. I'm just talking about one game right now, but he's getting better and better each week. You could see it today with what he did. A couple times with his movements, finding the right people on the move, finding some people on the sideline, those type of things there. I thought he did a great job with that."
As usual, Carr was quick to give credit to the play of his offensive line. But in the process he gave a little shout out to his older brother, David, and the struggles he went through as a rookie.
"I can't say enough good things about [my offensive line]," Said Carr. "I watched a certain rookie quarterback with the same last name about 12 years ago and I'm glad that it's a little different now. Those guys played their tail off. These guys they do a great job, they really do. They really care about keeping me clean and I really appreciate that."
In the end, despite all the superlatives about the day Derek Carr and the Raiders offense, they still fell short. And it came down to the Raiders offense. With 1:56 left in the game, the Raiders were driving. Then Carr tried one too many long passes. He saw what one on one coverage on Brice Butler and went for it all. The pass was intercepted to end the game.
He threw that same pass twice at Butler twice in this game. Butler didn't end up being open either time. The first time it luckily fell incomplete. Yet despite that as well as the interception, Carr says he wouldn't have gone away from it.
"Oh, absolutely. I trust Brice more than anything," said Carr. "I'd throw that a hundred times."
There's no doubt Carr trusts Butler. He targeted him five times in this game, and the other three resulted in completions, one of which was a 47-yard touchdown.
Carr showed trust in several of his receivers in this one. While Andre Holmes had two drops, he also had four catches including two touchdown catches - the first going for 77 yards on the third play of the game.
Holmes finished with a team-leading 121 yards while it was James Jones who led the team in catches (5). Carr completed passes to nine different receivers, showing he was going through his reads and finding the open man without locking on anyone exclusively.
This game showed great maturity for this rookie second round pick. In previous games, Carr had only shown flashes of potential. He put that potential together and early shocked the Chargers, who are considered arguably the best team in the NFL right now.
This one didn't end how Carr or the Raiders would have wanted, but what he did leading up to that game-ending decision, is something to build upon for a very promising rookie signal caller.