DENVER – The Raiders have played roughly five quarters since quarterback Derek Carr broke his right fibula. They’ve been outscored 35-6 in that span.
A quarter of that came after he got hurt against Indianapolis, when the Raiders were justifiably shell-shocked. The rest stems from Sunday’s 24-6 loss to the Denver Broncos, where poor quarterback play, an inept run game and defensive miscues killed any chance of winning the AFC West.
Now the Raiders must regroup on a short week before opening the playoffs Saturday afternoon in Houston. They aren’t sure who will play quarterback. It could be Matt McGloin, who wasn’t good even before suffering a shoulder/neck injury in the second quarter. It could be Connor Cook, a raw but talented rookie making his first NFL start in the postseason.
There’s one option they won’t have. Carr isn’t coming back to save the day.
That’s something Raiders players and coaches understand, but that doesn't make it easy to move past. Carr was this team’s heart and soul on the field and off. Losing him at such a late stage, with reserves thrust into huge games without much time to prep, is a gut shot. There wasn’t time to come to grips with it, adjust over a longer stretch or even catch a breath.
The Raiders looked lost without Carr on Sunday in Denver. There is a void without him the Raiders are trying to fill on the fly. That's a tall task. Maybe improbable. Keeping eyes forward is the only option, especially with that giant cast on Carr’s surgically repaired right leg.
“We can’t keep talking about Derek, bro,” edge rusher Bruce Irvin said. “Derek is gone. We have to do what we have to do to win. There isn’t any sense to keep bringing up Derek. It is what it is at this point. We got outplayed today. It’s plain and simple.”
The Raiders offense never got rolling. The Broncos were committed to stopping the run – as the Texans will be on Saturday – and dared quarterbacks to beat them deep. That didn’t happen much. Cook and McGloin threw for 171 yards, a touchdown and an interception on 32 attempts.
The defense is also entering a new world order, one where adequate is no longer acceptable. The Raiders won’t be scoring at their usual clip without Carr, meaning points and yards allowed must come down to compete.
The defense fell behind early in Denver and the offense never found a rhythm. That made for one bad day at the office. The Raiders seemed sluggish, without the energy typical of this year’s team. That begs one obvious question: Are the Raiders still reeling over Carr?
“I think you leave yourself open to those kinds of questions for sure,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “We’re big boys. We can take it like men and move on. It’s not what we wanted by any stretch. In a lot of different areas, we can be a lot better. As a team, we are better than that. We need to just put this behind us and move on.”
The Raiders didn’t want to use Carr’s loss to excuse poor play. They didn’t tolerate failure just because McGloin started, got hurt and then Cook took over. This quarterback mess could well be their undoing, but the Raiders don’t want to go out with a whimper.
“You have to improvise and overcome,” receiver Amari Cooper said. “…Everybody should be ready to play.”