Raiders, Carr can only won­der what they might have achieved

Albuquerque Journal - - NFL - BY JOSH DUBOW AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

ALAMEDA, Calif. — As the playoffs played in the back­ground, the Oak­land Raiders packed their bags, said their good­byes and be­gan an off­sea­son that started far sooner than they had hoped or ex­pected be­fore star quar­ter­back Derek Carr broke his right leg.

With Carr in a walk­ing boot un­able to travel, the Raiders lost the sea­son fi­nale at Den­ver to fall short of a di­vi­sion ti­tle and a firstround bye. Then they were dom­i­nated in a 27-14 wild-card loss to Hous­ton on Satur­day in their first playoff game in 14 years.

While back­ups Matt McGloin and Con­nor Cook strug­gled to move the of­fense the past two weeks, Carr could only won­der what the Raiders (12-5) might have been able to ac­com­plish had he not bro­ken his leg late in a vic­tory Dec. 24 against In­di­anapo­lis.

“I’m hu­man. Yeah, ab­so­lutely. I said, ‘What if?’ I said, ‘why?’ A lot, in the last two weeks,” Carr said Sunday. “But I can promise you, I’ve been the same per­son. It’s ob­vi­ously hurt me. Some days, I’ve been re­ally down and sad, but it doesn’t change who I am. It just hurts, man. It just hurts be­cause I love our team. I love our coaches. I love the fans. I love play­ing this game.”

Carr gave the Raiders great hope with a spec­tac­u­lar sea­son in which he threw for 3,937 yards and 28 touch­downs. He led seven fourth-quar­ter come­backs and be­came an MVP con­tender by spear-heading a turn­around for a fran­chise that lost the first 10 games of 2014, Carr’s rookie sea­son.

But as much as the dis­ap­point­ment from Carr’s in­jury and the playoff loss left a sour taste for what had been a feel-good sea­son, the Raiders know there is plenty of rea­son for op­ti­mism.

With a young core led by Carr, All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack and Pro Bowl re­ceiver Amari Cooper, a stout of­fen­sive line ex­pected to re­main mostly in­tact, and other key build­ing blocks in place, the fu­ture is bright for the Raiders.

Giv­ing Carr even more con­fi­dence for 2017 is the at­ti­tude after the elim­i­na­tion shown by play­ers up­set they didn’t do more.

“I’m go­ing to work my tail off to be bet­ter next year,” Carr said. “That’s the mind­set our whole team has, is they came in here today to hear what their coach said they need to do bet­ter. When you have a group of guys that won 12 games and they don’t care about that, they just want to get bet­ter? We’re go­ing to be all right.”

As long as Carr is healthy. He said he be­lieved he could have made it back for the Su­per Bowl had the team got­ten that far, adding he will be 100 per­cent when the off­sea­son pro­gram be­gins in April.

The last two weeks showed how im­por­tant Carr is to the Raiders. What was one of the league’s more dy­namic of­fenses when Carr was healthy couldn’t get go­ing at all against Den­ver and Hous­ton the past two weeks.

Oak­land was held to a sea­son­low 221 yards in a 24-6 loss to the Bron­cos that McGloin started be­fore leav­ing with an in­jured left shoul­der. Cook came on late in the first half of that game and then be­came the first quar­ter­back in league his­tory to make his first start in the post­sea­son the fol­low­ing week.

That task was far too great to over­come as he threw an early in­ter­cep­tion to Jade­veon Clowney and the Raiders gained just 203 yards over­all in their sec­ond low­est playoff pro­duc­tion ever.

“He won’t ever be in a tougher sit­u­a­tion than he was then,” Carr said. “His first ac­tion, real ‘be­ing the starter’ ac­tion, was in the playoffs against the No. 1 de­fense on pa­per in foot­ball. It will never be harder for him and I told him that.”

Cook didn’t get much help as the de­fense strug­gled against lesser quar­ter­backs Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler. The re­ceivers dropped numer­ous passes and the run­ning game never got go­ing as there ap­peared to be a psy­cho­log­i­cal hit from los­ing Carr.

“I mean, it’s kind of ob­vi­ous. DC was MVP all sea­son. When you lose your MVP, makes it tough, even though we have ca­pa­ble backup quar­ter­backs, very ca­pa­ble backup quar­ter­backs,” re­ceiver An­dre Holmes said. “But with all that said, if DC was healthy, I feel like there would be more peo­ple in this locker room right now.”


Oak­land quar­ter­back Con­nor Cook (8) is sacked by Hous­ton’s Whit­ney Mer­cilus dur­ing Satur­day’s playoff game.

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