When the Raiders entered training camp, the starting quarterback was Matt Schaub and the starting tight end was David Ausberry. By the time the season began, Derek Carr had taken over the starting quarterback job and Ausberry was injured again, leaving the job to incumbent second-year starter, Mychal Rivera.
Since then, these two have developed a chemistry throughout the season that could signal a strong playing relationship ahead.
Just a look at the numbers over the past seven weeks compared to those of the first seven weeks tells the story pretty well. What started out slow for both of them has blossomed considerably.
Carr threw to Rivera 23 times over the first six games with Rivera hauling in 13 of them for 101 total yards. That's an average of 3.8 targets, 2.1 catches, and 16.8 yards per game.
Over the past seven games, Rivera has been targeted 52 times and caught 35 of them for 363 yards. That's an average of 7.4 targets per game, 5 catches, and 51.8 yards per game - nearly twice as many targets, more than twice as many catches, and three times the yards per game. Rivera also has all four of his touchdown receptions over the past six weeks.
This building chemistry culminated in his catching 7 passes on 7 targets for 109 yards and a touchdown. It was the first 100-yard game of Rivera's career. It's also more yards in one game than he had in the first six games of this season combined (101).
"[It's] that trust factor between the quarterback and the receivers," said Greg Olson. "In Mike's case, as a tight end there, I think they're just more comfortable with one another. I think that Derek is comfortable with how he's running routes and Derek is kind of again, getting a little bit better feel for the timing of the passing game and the progressions and the matchups that are involved there. I just think that throughout the year, each week, they've had a pretty good relationship there, the quarterback and that tight end, so that's helped him as well."
One particular play last week stood out among the seven passes to Rivera. Carr escaped pressure in the pocket and rolled left. River was a good 15 yards downfield at this point, but his route was taking him toward defenders on the outside while the middle of the field was open. Carr waved for Rivera to break off his route and head back toward the middle of the field. The two acknowledged each other and Carr let the pass go. Rivera then broke off and turned inside to meet the pass where he had some open field catch the pass and pick up some extra yards for a 27-yard completion.
"There have been a couple of times where we've been able to do that," said Carr. "In this game it was a big play with the one to Mike especially where we were able to hit that one. I think that just comes with us just playing with each other too, comes with knowing the routes, knowing route concepts, not pointing him into another route, those kind of things, all those kind of things. We're all just growing. It was good to see us do it, finally, in a game. We actually had a few times instances where that happened at practice today. It's good."
This isn't just about these two clicking, either. It's about getting better. Even as the starter all of his rookie season last year, Rivera only once had a game with at least five catches for over 50 yards. Four times out of his last seven games he has either caught more than five passes or had more than 50 yards receiving.
Or if you'd like to compare it to other receivers on this team this season, over the past seven games, Rivera leads all receivers in targets, receptions, and yards. James Jones leads the team in all those categories over the entire season his numbers have gone down in every category while Rivera's numbers over the past seven weeks are nearly identical to his over the first seven weeks.
James Jones first 7 weeks: 5 catches on 7.3 targets per game, 363 yards, 3 TD's
Mychal Rivera last 7 weeks: 5 catches on 7.4 targets per game, 363 yards, 4 TD's
Keep in mind, we're also talking about a wide receiver compared to a tight end. The team's number one wide receiver who has caught at least two passes every single game this season.