ALAMEDA – Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio weighed his options and once again decided to be bold. He went for it on a pivotal fourth down late in Sunday’s game against San Diego, and coordinator Bill Musgrave dialed up a play to get just beyond the sticks.
Quarterback Derek Carr had something else in mind. Michael Crabtree was isolated in single coverage with Casey Hayward, a matchup Carr was confident his guy would win. He sent Crabtree deep, and tossed a perfect, arching fade the receiver caught just beyond the goal line.
Touchdown, Raiders. The moment was a game changer. The Raiders established a lead they would not relinquish to win their third straight.
Carr made a tough call in the moment, one that would’ve been heavily criticized had the play failed. He made it without fear or doubt, trusting his arm and his guy to make a big play.
“I just know that as soon as the ball goes up, I know what they were thinking like, ‘We didn’t call that,’” Carr said with a laugh. “It’s just funny. It’s nothing outside the framework of what they want me to do or being aggressive and those kinds of things. I would never do that kind of stuff, be an insubordinate. I’m not like that. I try and stay in the framework and run the offense the way Coach Musgrave and (quarterbacks coach Todd Downing) want it.”
Musgrave’s original play call was a good one and could’ve worked. Carr saw a golden opportunity and took it.
In his internal struggle between gunslinger and game manager, the six guns won.
"A lot of those criteria are based on coverage and what he sees," Musgrave said. "We have certain routes we like versus certain coverages. He knows his criteria and he applied it perfectly there."
Carr has talked extensively about being smarter and more poised in tough situations, confident in the knowledge that he doesn’t have to make every play all by himself. He has help on a talented roster, and isn’t afraid to let them shoulder some weight carrying the team.
There are times, however, when Carr must take firm control. There are times when playing conservative does not apply.
“I always remain aggressive and erred on that side of the line,” Carr told CSNBayArea.com after his press conference. “That’s how you have to play the game. You can’t be passive from the quarterback position. That’s how I think about it. I go with the flow of the game and take what’s given, but I’m going to push it when the time’s right.”
Carr doesn’t do so based on gut feelings. He takes calculated risks.
“Sometimes you have to draw the line and dare to make a big play,” Carr said. “You can be smart about it, factoring in the route and the coverage. You weigh things out, and sometimes you have to go make a play that can help lead the team to victory.”
It doesn’t always work out, though it has for this season’s 4-1 Raiders and their quarterback, who already has two fourth-quarter comebacks to his credit.
Carr now knows when to pull the trigger, when to exercise restraint and take what’s given.
"Our coaching staff has put together a terrific system that enables and is conducive for a quarterback to make quarter-turn adjustments or change the entire play," Musgrave said. "He’s done a terrific job, as have all the quarterbacks."
Musgrave and Downing have given him freedom to make important calls, to check to different plays and routes. It’s a privilege Carr enjoys.
“That’s the way I love to play. I love having a lot put on my back,” Carr said. “I like having… Any quarterback does. Coach Musgrave talks to me about his time with Matt Ryan (in Atlanta), how he loved that and how we’re similar in that way. We just love that kind of stuff. I absolutely love it.”
Carr used that power well, running a high-octane offense ranked fourth in the NFL. His contributions have been nearly all positive, with 1,383 yards and 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions.
Carr continues to grow into a consistently top-flight performer, and his coaches trust him to make big plays and important calls at the right time.