Derek Carr’s MVP buzz growing as Raiders continue to impress
OAKLAND — Michael Crabtree stood on the sideline, looked up at the scoreboard above the north end zone and took a deep breath. The eighth-year receiver crunched the numbers: His Raiders trailed the Buffalo Bills, 24-9, with 9:01 left in the third quarter, having been manhandled by the visitors on both sides of the ball. While 54,759 fans at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum fretted over the prospect of an unexpected stumble to a fired-up underdog, Crabtree smiled and thought to himself, We’ve only just begun to fight.
Crabtree wasn’t lying. And as the rest of the football world is starting to figure out, when you’ve got the hottest right hand in the land at your disposal, you’ve always got a puncher’s chance.
After a 15-minute, 27-second flurry in which Raiders quarterback Derek Carr buoyed his burgeoning MVP candidacy — and, more important, fueled a jaw-dropping 29-0 run that propelled Oakland to a 38-24 victory — Crabtree stood at his locker and explained the mindset of a 10-2 team that currently leads in the race for homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
“Bruh, you’ve been seeing this the whole season — we’ve been doing the same thing as we did today,” Crabtree told me, punching the air for emphasis. “When we hit a rough patch, we respond, plain and simple. When you’ve got a team like this, bruh, when you’ve got this many weapons, the sky’s the limit.”
Then Crabtree made reference to another high-profile Oakland athlete: Boxer Andre Ward, who two weeks ago fought back from a hellacious second-round knockdown to dethrone light-heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev.
“I was watching the Andre Ward fight (recently) — he was here today, too,” Crabtree said. “He got knocked down in the first part of the fight, but he just kept standing in there and came back and won. That inspired me. We’ve got the same type of drive on this team. That’s what I was thinking about when we got down today. And trust me, bruh, we didn’t flinch one time.”
At this point, the Raiders‘ resilience shouldn’t be overly surprising to anyone. This was Oakland’s sixth fourth-quarter comeback of the 2016 season, a campaign which began with a dramatic road victory over the New Orleans Saints, capped by coach Jack Del Rio (aka Jack Del Huevos) making a tone-setting decision to win the game on a two-point conversion attempt.
Now the AFC West-leading Raiders remain a game ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs — a team that handed them one of their two defeats — in advance of Thursday night’s rematch at Arrowhead Stadium. And though the 10-2 New England Patriots and defending champion Denver Broncos (8-4) will likely have plenty of influence on the race for the conference title, there are currently 53 dudes in silver and black who feel pretty good about their prospects.
After all, these aren’t your big brother’s Raiders. Last Sunday, after Carr dramatically returned from a pinkie dislocation on his throwing hand to lead Oakland to a victory over the Carolina Panthers, they clinched their first winning season since 2002, which ended with a jarring Super Bowl XXXVII defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Now try out this streak-breaker: Going into Sunday’s game against the Bills (6-6), the Raiders had lost their last 72 games in which they’d trailed by 15 points or more, a run of futility that spanned 15 years.
Thanks largely to Carr and his fellow third-year franchise centerpiece, pass-rushing defensive end (and Defensive Player of the Year candidate) Khalil Mack, they’re poised to obliterate all sorts of unfavorable precedents — and the scary thing is, they still haven’t come close to reaching their potential.
“No, we have not, and that’s a beautiful thing,” Del Rio said as he stood in the players’ parking lot outside the Coliseum about an hour after the game. “We think we can be much better — that’s the plan — but in the meantime we’re…