This dream season for Derek Carr and the Oakland Raiders, so often touched with a bit of magic, ran smack into some cold, hard reality on a frigid Thursday night in Kansas City.
“Perhaps we see this team again,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said after his team’s 21-13 loss to the Chiefs.
He should hope not. In two games this season against Kansas City, both impacted by weather, Andy Reid’s squad proved to be the tougher group. Carr’s MVP campaign took a massive hit on a night when he missed open throws far too often. Oakland’s wide receivers could not fight through the physical play of Kansas City’s secondary, dropping passes and struggling to separate.
Perhaps Carr’s injured pinkie finger was a factor, but he went out of his way to avoid making excuses after the game. His decision making was as big an issue as his accuracy on a night when he chose to throw to Seth Roberts and Andre Holmes on so many wholesale NFL jerseys key snaps. Carr threw the ball short of the sticks on third down often and went for low percentage passes in shorter-yardage situations, including the final two offensive snaps.
“It’s good. It definitely wasn’t the finger’s fault,” Carr said.
This loss was on Carr and the passing game. It’s not like his vaunted offensive line or even the maligned Raiders defense let him down. He was mostly protected well and the Raiders ran the ball for 135 yards on 31 carries. This is a team built to win through the air, and the passing game consistently let the team down. Carr finished with only 117 yards, completing 17 of 41 passes. His 2.9 yards per attempt was the lowest for a Raiders quarterback since JaMarcus Russell was roaming the Raiders sideline.
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Consider what happened after each of the Chiefs turnovers. Oakland took over in field-goal range three times, including twice in a row to start the second half. The Raiders gained 14 yards combined on the three drives, scoring only six points (a bad snap ruined one field-goal attempt).
It’s tough to call Carr the league MVP when Alex Smith jersey has outplayed him in two head-to-head meetings. While Smith turned the ball over after halftime, it was his big plays early that put the Chiefs in front. Kansas City won for the first time in 44 years with a negative-three turnover differential because their playmakers — from Tyreek Hill to Travis Kelce to cornerback Marcus Peters and pass rusher Justin Houston — all came up big. Unheralded cornerbacks like Terrance Mitchell and Steven Nelson played huge roles.
Time to fret over Oakland’s offense? Instead, let’s credit an active Chargers defense that looked like it still had plenty to play for this season. Sunday’s showdown served as a wire-to-wire grind for a Raiders team that has posted 30-plus points in seven of 13 outings, second only to the high-flying Falcons. Coming off his worst game of the year, Carr threw for just 213 yards in a tilt that saw reliable kicker Sebastian Janikowski punch home four field goals. Oakland struggled early with two uncharacteristic turnovers on a day that saw no Raiders receiver cross the 60-yard barrier. The most hopeful note for Oakland was that Carr — throwing exclusively out of the shotgun for the third straight game because of a dislocated pinky — showed no visible discomfort and threw the ball well, save for a costly first-half pick.
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Philip Rivers shook off last week’s five-turnover implosion to keep San Diego alive until the bitter end. Then disaster struck, with the wily veteran tossing a game-ending interception to cover man Reggie Nelson with 1:37 left on the clock. The giveaway put an ugly exclamation mark on a game that saw Rivers — 17 of 30 for 206 yards — rip through Oakland’s secondary for much of the second half. Along the way he threw a 47-yard touchdown strike to Travis Benjamin and another score to rookie tight end Hunter Henry jersey that notched a 16-13 lead in the third quarter. That lead, as with so many cheap jerseys and other Chargers games this season, was not meant to be.
Raiders running back Latavius Murray continued his strong stretch run with 81 yards off 13 carries. It was encouraging to see Oakland use the ground game to pound away at San Diego with 149 yards at a healthy 5.1 yards per tote. They’ll need that balance come January.
Weather! These teams’ Week 6 matchup was marred by sloppy conditions, which played into the hands of the run-heavy Chiefs at the time. On Thursday night, weather could play a factor yet again, as the temperature is expected to dip into the mid-20s. Carr especially could be affected by the frigid conditions; he’s less than two weeks removed from dislocating his pinky and took all of his snaps out of shotgun last week. The third-year quarterback has also never won in front of the Arrowhead crowd, which is notoriously hostile in prime time games and will attempt to destroy the decibel record/Carr’s hopes, dreams, eardrums, etc.
Oakland can get one step closer to a playoff berth with a win on Thursday night. If victorious, the Raiders will need a loss from the Broncos or Dolphins on Sunday to clinch their first January without golf since 2002. A win would also secure Oakland’s best start to a season since 1976, which culminated in the Raiders’ Super Bowl XI win over the Vikings.
Of course, K.C. has other plans. A Chiefs win would lock the two rivals in a tie atop the AFC West and see Kansas City take control of the tiebreaker — and the second seed — with a 4-0 division record. The Raiders would then be subjugated for a week to the fifth seed.