In Buffalo, EJ Manuel ‘didn’t have what he has now' with Raiders


In Buffalo, EJ Manuel ‘didn’t have what he has now' with Raiders

ALAMEDA – EJ Manuel joined the Buffalo Bills during a downturn. They dwelled in the AFC East five years running, which generally prompts a team to draft a quarterback high.

EJ Manuel was their man, taken No. 16 overall in the 2013 NFL draft. He started 10 games as a rookie and four more his second season before losing the top job. He never got it back during a tumultuous time dealing with two head coaches and competitions with three different quarterbacks. The Bills declined his fifth-year option and let him walk to Oakland as a free agent.

Raiders tight end Lee Smith was in Buffalo during Manuel’s first two NFL seasons. He knew Manuel then and now. He sees a difference, and a far better chance to work with talented weapons.

“EJ didn’t come into the greatest situation years ago in Buffalo,” Smith said. “We were in a building process up there, and we didn’t have Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree and Jared Cook. Not to say we were terrible back then, but he didn’t have what he has now.

“He was a 22-year old man with great expectations as a first-round draft pick. It wasn’t the best situation for him, but he always handled things like a pro. He’s a good quarterback and he’s a good man. I’d let him babysit my kids.”

Manuel is, by all accounts, a stand up guy. He also has first-round size and arm talent, with serious heat on the fastball. He signed for the veteran minimum for the chance to reunite with Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing – he was Bills quarterbacks coach in 2014 – and rejuvenate his career.

He was brought in for moments like this. Starting quarterback Derek Carr will miss a game or more after suffering a transverse process fracture in his back Sunday at Denver.

The Raiders learned last year that inexperience kills in those situations. Matt McGloin struggled mightily after Carr broke his fibula and then got hurt, leaving rookie Connor Cook to start and struggle in a playoff game.

Manuel earned the backup job, and the Raiders are glad he’s here. He filled in well Sunday even in a losing effort and, more important than the original result, Manuel didn’t wilt under a heat lamp.

“I don’t think the moment was too big for him,” Del Rio said. “I thought he was accurate, he made good decisions with the exception of putting that one up late on second down (it was intercepted to kill a comeback attempt), just check it down there and keep moving the chains. But overall, I liked the demeanor he played with. I liked the certainty he played with. I liked his accuracy.”

Manuel’s performance and poise inspired confidence as the Raiders start a three-game home stand that starts with Baltimore and the L.A. Chargers. The Raiders are good enough to win those games with a backup – they close that stretch versus Kansas City, a different animal altogether – and Manuel must deliver. He’ll have a week to get used to the first team and must be ready Sunday against the Ravens.

He won’t, however, have to fill Carr’s role as team leader. The Raiders are well equipped to handle that.

“The front office has done a great job of putting a veteran leader in every position group,” Smith said. "All of us have to manage our own rooms and do our jobs. Farm your own land. There’s no need to fix the world as far as football’s concerned.

“Everybody needs to do their job, and we’ll be just fine. Nobody needs to try and be a hero now that Derek’s down. The guy didn’t retire. He’s still here. He’ll still be here to lead us. His presence will still be felt. If he’s not on the field this week, next week, however long he’s gone, we’ll be fine if we do our jobs.”

Carr takes responsibility for Raiders loss, 'it is all my fault'


Carr takes responsibility for Raiders loss, 'it is all my fault'

Derek Carr sees the world through rose-colored lenses. The Raiders quarterback can find light in dark days, put a positive spin on most anything.

Not Sunday. He refused to sugar coat a 26-15 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs might’ve killed the Raiders’ playoff hopes.

Frustration was visible on his face, audible in his tone. This one hurt. Might for a while.

Carr wasn’t mad at anyone else. He was upset with himself, and made it clear the angry mob should stay at his door.

“It sucked,” Carr said after losing a virtual must-win game. “It was not good enough and you can put it all on me. Don’t you blame one coach, one player. It is all my fault.”

Look, Carr wasn’t good. This might’ve been one of his worst games as a pro, since his rookie year at least.

He had a 36.3 passer rating through three quarters, with 69 yards to his credit. The Raiders had three plays or less in six of their first eight drives. He finished with 211 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, totals padded during a too-little, too-late fourth quarter comeback try.

Despite Carr’s desire to take all the blame, there’s plenty to go around. The game plan wasn’t great. The pass protection wasn’t superb. Michael Crabtree dropped two passes. Johnny Holton lost a fumble and had a pass clang off his hands and get intercepted.

Carr still points back at himself as the root of the Raiders’ offensive woes. He’s the triggerman. The buck apparently stops there.

“I get patted on the back when I throw for 300 yards, but I could tell you 15 plays that I screwed up,” Carr said. “I can play better all of the time. That is the life of this business, especially when you lose.”

Carr has taken his fair share of criticism this season, maybe more than at any point in his career. That comes with a high profile and a massive $125 million contract, with a fifth of that coming this year.

Carr is his harshest critic, and doesn’t point fingers. That’s not his style. He will use this experience and frustration to improve as a quarterback, and sure sport a smile next time he meets the press.

Not Sunday. Not after a disappointing day at Arrowhead Stadium. He’s 0-4 with dismal numbers in Kansas City, and wasn’t able to buck that trend in this one. That will stick with him when he looks back on a disappointing season.

“I am just frustrated with myself,” Carr said. “There are going to be plays that you want back, but that is every game. For a whole, I saw the coverage fine. I was going to certain places with the ball that I thought were right and all of those things.

“…we had some opportunities that we just did not connect on. Just can’t happen. There is no easy way to go through this one. This one sucked.”

The three things you need to know from Raiders' 25-16 loss to Chiefs


The three things you need to know from Raiders' 25-16 loss to Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Here are three things you should know from Friday’s 26-15 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday:

Raiders down, virtually out: Try as they might to ruin a once-promising season, the AFC West kept giving the Raiders life. The Chargers started slow. The Chiefs went into a tailspin in the season’s second half. That gave the Raiders control they didn’t deserve, with a real chance to with the division by taking care of business.

Players felt blessed to have that opportunity. It was ultimately squandered Sunday with an awful performance against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

The days of, “so you’re saying there’s a chance” are basically numbered. It would take three straight wins and a whole lot of help to get back in this thing. The Raiders aren’t and shouldn’t to be in the hunt. Not after such a terrible showing in a game that could’ve established pole position.

“We don’t deserve to be No. 1 in our division,” tight end Lee Smith told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “when we just went out there and pissed on our leg.”

Colorful, yet accurate.

The Raiders were flat in a huge moment. There’s no discounting that.

“This was a tough one,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “We obviously came into this with high hopes. Everything that we wanted to accomplish in our season was in front of us. It was a big day and a big moment, and we did not play well.”

Another offens(ive) showing: The Raiders offense has underwhelmed all year, with poor execution leading to long scoreless spells. Sunday’s showing might’ve been the worst yet.

The Raiders had three or less plays on six of their first eight drives against the NFL’s No. 28-ranked defense. Quarterback Derek Carr had a 36.3 passer rating in that span, with a pair of late touchdown to put lipstick on the effort.

Players and coaches were scratching heads over exactly what went wrong. In this case, the “what” is more important than the “why.”

“That is a good question,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “That’s something we have to take a look at. Bottom line: We did not (establish an offensive rhythm). The first five drives were four punts and a pick. That’s not the kind of productivity we needed today. Obviously.”

The Raiders have all these weapons, from Carr to Michael Crabtree to Jared Cook to Marshawn Lynch to the most expensive offensive line in NFL history, and they can’t produce consistently. Frustration among those power players is starting to mount, especially after struggling in a game the Raiders had to win.

“It was not good enough,” Cook said. “No first half points. Barely any second-half points. The offense didn’t pull our weight today.”

3. Raiders lost in big moment: The Raiders understood the magnitude of this moment. They knew this game was vital to winning their first AFC West title since 2002. They were not up to the task.

They played poor in each phase. Offensive struggles are well documented. The defense held strong and forced a lot of field goals, but didn’t make the game-changing plays required with the offense scuffling. Even Marquette King had a rough day, with several uncharacteristically poor punts.

Del Rio insists the preparation was good. The execution, however, was not. The Raiders weren’t up to this challenge, and struggled in the spotlight. It seems strange considering how good they were under pressure last year, but this year’s group has not been clutch.

That was a disappointment to many veterans in a subdued locker room. They had a great opportunity, and blew it.

“We have a young team,” edge rusher Bruce Irvin said. “I don’t think guys understand that when you get opportunities like this you have to take advantage of them. The NFL is about winning in December. If you don’t do that, you won’t be playing in January.”

Odds of the Raiders playing beyond the regular season are slim, virtually nil all because of what happened here at Arrowhead Stadium.