Derek Carr has been excellent late in games. His Raiders have been down near the two-minute warning three times and won twice thanks to his heroics, which have become common through the season’s quarter pole.
Carr has seven fourth-quarter comebacks in his career, six in the last two seasons and a pair in 2016’s first four games. No quarterback has been better in the clutch since 2015, which has given these Raiders confidence they’ll win every close game.
They finish strong in all phases, the only reason they’re 3-1 heading into Sunday’s AFC West opener against San Diego.
The Raiders have complete faith Carr will come through when it matters most.
“He is super competitive. He is a guy that is very well prepared,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s really, I think, taken a step forward in terms of emotional control, the poise to be, kind of, surgeon-like and just be accurate with the ball and let his playmakers do their thing. So, it’s a combination of things but I think he’s definitely taken a step forward for us.”
Carr has talked extensively about slowing the game down in important moments, with a mental approach that keeps emotion at bay. Calm has been crucial to late-game success. So has a little restraint.
“I still feel that I can go out there and make all of the throws, make every play, and, I’m just learning that I don’t have to do that on every snap,” Carr said. “We have a great weapon with our punter. We have a great weapon with our defense. When we’ve needed them, they’ve come up big. So, I needed to learn last year that I don’t have to make every play, and I think that alone right there took so much stress off me when Coach Del Rio said, ‘Hey man, you don’t have to do it all by yourself. We’re going to help you.’ I thought that was really cool and it kind of made me realize and put me in a different perspective.”
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers might have to make every big play work, because his teammates haven’t helped late in games. The Chargers have led all four games at the two minute warning and lost three. They’re finding ways to lose close contests, which has become the defining characteristic of the Mike McCoy era.
The Chargers head coach has helmed several astonishing losses, including three heartbreakers that have him on the hot seat.
“The way we’ve unfortunately haven’t finished games, there’s different reasons for it,” McCoy said in a conference call. “It’s not the same. It’s not just one phase not doing something. You look at those games that just one play somewhere or one decision, whatever that is, but that’s the game here. There’s a lot of talent on every team, on all sides of the ball and the kicking game. You have to make those plays. That’s what the game’s all about.”
The Chargers can score, even with so many playmakers out with injury. That means Sunday’s game could be close late, leading to another photo finish. The Raiders seem to have an edge there, whether it’s Carr or his compatriots charged with locking down wins.
“It’s a fine line in our league,” Del Rio said. “For us, it’s about making sure that we’re prepared, that we’re recovered from a couple of road trips, you come back and be recovered. And then, really dig into our preparation and get ourselves ready to play a divisional opponent here at home.”