This week the Raiders head to Baltimore to face the Ravens. Standing on the opposite sideline and going against their defense will be Michael Crabtree who for three years was Derek Carr’s top target. He was signed to a one-year deal prior to Carr’s second season and played so well that he earned an extension midway through the season.
With his long term contract in hand, he had his second career 1000-yard season as a go-to receiver in the clutch for Derek Carr to lead the Raiders to a 12-3 record.
“I love Crab. Oh my goodness, he helped me so much. Just talking scheme, talking the mindset, leadership, all of those things,” Derek Carr said of Crabtree.
All that love started to wane when the team fell apart last season and the rapport between Crab and Carr went with it. Over the final two games of the season, Crabtree got a total of just five targets and there were reports that he and Carr were no longer on speaking terms.
Crabtree wasn’t happy. Initially it seemed like the team might keep him around and hoped to make it work. Derek Carr says that’s what he wanted and made his feelings known to Crabtree.
“I’ll never forget standing in the hallway just around the corner, begging him, ‘don’t leave bro, please. I promise I’ll throw you the ball,’” Carr said he told Crabtree.
“He had two or three of the best years statistically of his career. And that means a lot to me. I told him I’ll throw it to him. Knowing him he’d want it more, you know, but that’s Crab. And he’s one of the most competitive people that I’ve ever been around and I think the world of him. I miss him, I do. I wish him the best.”
Crabtree caught 25 touchdowns in his three seasons in Oakland. Many of those catches were of the game-winning variety. Especially in 2016 when the majority of the Raiders’ wins came on game-winning drives. The biggest of those came in week seven of the 2017 with the untimed 2-yard pass at the pylon to beat the Chiefs 31-30.
That was the last game-winning touchdown pass between the two. In fact, Derek Carr has not thrown a game-winning touchdown pass to anyone since then — over a year’s time — and both wins this season came on field goals.
The man who was brought in to replace Crabtree, Jordy Nelson, has not been an upgrade. Unlike Crabtree who led the team in receptions each of his three seasons in Oakland, Nelson is a distant third on the team with just 25 catches on 39 targets. That’s nearly half Crabtree’s numbers last season both in catches (49) and targets (78).
“We had a great chemistry,” Carr continued of Crabtree. “We had good moments together on those red zone plays and little hand signals here, me looking at him kind of a deal. We were on a good page and that’s something that you just try and build with all your guys.”
Carr was sure to note that the two “played for years together, so it doesn’t just come overnight,” but he and Crabtree had instant chemistry. Their first 10 games together were better than either the great 2016 season or last season. That first ten games Crabtree caught 57 passes for 696 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Crabtree’s numbers in Baltimore this season are similar to what he put up in Oakland in 2017. His 42 catches for 479 yards are third on the Ravens and would be second on the Raiders behind only tight end Jared Cook (577). Mainly because the Raiders have a completely depleted receiving corps, having traded Amari Cooper and losing Martavis Bryant, Jordy Nelson, and Brandon LaFell to injuries.
The 31-year-old Crabtree had just one catch for 7 yards last week with rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson making his first start. They will see if they can establish chemistry against Crabtree’s former team Sunday in Baltimore.