Derek Carr may be Willis Reed, but his teammates are Walt Frazier

Derek Carr may be Willis Reed, but his teammates are Walt Frazier

The burning question from the Raiders’ 35-32 win over Carolina Sunday would have been, “Does last year’s team win this game?” if not for Michael Crabtree’s essential clarity on the subject.
“We’re gonna worry about THIS year, not the Raiders of the past,” he said.
And with that, Crabtree declared the end of the Thirteen Years Of Hell In A Cell, Football Division – with a come-from-ahead-and-then-behind victory that showed that for the first time in more than a decade, the Raiders as a collective let bygones truly be bygones.
Oh, you may want to debate what the biggest reason why the Raiders didn’t turtle in defeat when all the signs pointed in exactly that destination – whether it was Derek Carr’s heroics with only 80 percent of an operational right hand, or Khalil Mack’s pick-six and all-around disruptor’s game, or Crabtree’s sensational 49-yard grab-my-head-but-I-still-have-my-hands fourth quarter catch, or any of about 12 other pressure points that caused Oakland to overcome both Carolina and itself.
But the macro-fact is this: Having blown a 24-7 halftime lead in 13 minutes and allowing Carolina to score 25 consecutive points, these Raiders didn’t vomit all over themselves like so many of their predecessors would have done, and often did. They didn’t accept ignominious defeat and ritual shame-processing as their essential lot in life. They didn’t regard the fourth quarter as something just to get through so they could get home 20 minutes earlier.
In short, they earned the right to become perhaps the first team in NFL history to combine the victory formation with the shotgun formation – because that’s what this day demanded if the Raiders were to be taken seriously as a championship contender, and as a team of weak wills and faltering hearts no more.
Job done, and done well.
Carr’s history is that of a fourth-quarter scene stealer; this is the 10th fourth-quarter-or-later come-from-behind win in his 19 total wins, and his numbers when tied or trailing in the fourth quarter are absurd – 80-of-118, 1,109 yards, 10 touchdowns and one interception.
But he also has lost 24 games in his career as a whole, so those statistics, while jaw-slackening in isolation, don’t really have a lot of meaning until now, when the Raiders as a whole can actually benefit from them. After all, to torture the analogy, nobody wants to hear about how you tracked the deer – they only want to see the antlers.
But Carr didn’t win those games alone, and he certainly didn’t win this one himself, either. Mack and Crabtree were bigger standouts at bigger times, running back Latavius Murray’s impact belied his numbers, and the offensive line kept Carr safe from harm – unless you want to count center Rodney Hudson’s snap 42 seconds into the third quarter that turned the quarterback’s pinky into a Divided Road Ahead sign.
But he does get credit for not crumpling as the Panthers regained their own memories of competitive obstinacy from 2015. Carr was 10-for-15 for 176 yards and a touchdown before his pinky was mangled, and 11-for-18 for 141 and another score afterward. He did throw an ill-advised pass to Amari Cooper that Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis intercepted, and his absence also indirectly led to Matt McGloin being reduced to shards on a hit by Carolina safety Tre Boston, but he did not become fazed, let alone defeated.
Nor did the group as a whole. They didn’t do that old Raider thing, the one that lost them 70 percent of their games for 13 years (63-145, in case you need the math) in one of two ways – accepting defeat as their lot in life, or at best having defeat thrust upon them whether they liked it or not.
This is not that team, not any more. Oh, they may lose, and they may lose by a big number. But it won’t be because “same old Raiders.” It will be because they made the mistakes even good football teams occasionally make, or because they will have been flogged by a superior one.
Carr, though, is a terrible historian. When he was asked if this was a “Willis Reed moment,” a 46-year-old reference to the NBA Hall-of-Famer who gimped onto the floor in Game 7 of those Finals with a torn thigh muscle to inspire the New York Knicks to victory, he smiled as he typically does.
“You know what’s hilarious, my coach said Willis Reid to me on the sideline, just to get me to laugh and get me in the mood,” Carr said. “I looked at him and was like, ‘Who?’ What’s crazy is that I know who Willis Reed is. I mean, he came in and dropped like 40.”
In fact, Reed dropped like four. Actually, not “like” four, but four. He played 27 minutes, making his first two shots and never scoring again, while Walt Frazier went for 36, 19 assists and seven rebounds. But Reed is cited as the man who drove the Knicks to their first NBA championship by his ability to lift the Knicks from their essential Knick-hood.
Hey, narratives are what we want them to be. This may be remembered by many as the day Derek Carr overcame his pinky finger, but he is the Willis Reed part of the story. His teammates are the Walt Frazier, and together they broke a 13-year cycle of acquiescence.
The truth is, focus on Carr’s pinky if you must, but this is the day the Raiders showed a skeptical nation their collective spine.

Gruden, McKenzie set to sell Suh on the Silver and Black


Gruden, McKenzie set to sell Suh on the Silver and Black

Ndamukong Suh’s coming to Alameda. Jon Gruden, Paul Guenther and Reggie McKenzie will have a chance to make a pitch, explaining exactly why the superstar defensive tackle belongs in the Silver and Black.

McKenzie (and owner Mark Davis) would’ve relished this opportunity last time Suh was a free agent. The Raiders had plenty of cap space in 2015 but oh, so many needs coming off a 3-13 campaign, and weren’t prepared for his market value to go nuclear. McKenzie steered clear of the mushroom cloud, and Suh’s deal set a new market for defensive players.

He made $60 million over three years in Miami, but didn’t see his contract’s second half after lackluster team results and hints of inconsistent effort. The Dolphins are reportedly angling for a culture change, and didn’t think Suh would help the transition.

That put him back on the open market, with more guaranteed dollars dancing in his head. Suh’s on a free-agent tour rare in the modern NFL, where dollars are committed quick once free agency opens. Suh’s slow playing this one, thus far hopping from New Orleans to Tennessee to L.A. to see the Rams on a private jet. His charter will land in Oakland Wednesday to see what the Raiders have to offer.

There’s little doubt what Suh can bring. He might be the best interior defensive lineman east of L.A.’s Aaron Donald -- yes, there are a few other top talents -- and would be a perfect fit for Guenther’s scheme. That system needs a Geno Atkins type. He made the Guenther’s Bengals go in recent seasons, and Suh’s certainly as good or better when going strong.

The real question’s what the Raiders can offer that others can’t. The Titans and Rams have more salary-cap space, as it stands right now. The Raiders are the only non-playoff team in his bunch, with the other three seemingly on the rise.

The Raiders could champion playing with Khalil Mack. The Rams have Donald, the Titans have Jurell Casey and the Saints have Cam Jordan. Suh has made reference to the final three in interviews with Yahoo! Sports.

Gruden, however, is certainly a selling point. Several signed free agents cited the A-list head coach as an attraction to joining the Raiders. A healthy, impactful Derek Carr and Suh’s addition to the defense could make the Raiders a real contender right away, something that will obviously get brought up in Wednesday’s visit.

Suh’s an Oregon kid, and the Raiders are the closest team to home. That might help.

He could make a pros and cons list about market, state tax issues, chances of winning, coach and locker room culture, but the almighty dollar can’t be ignored.

Can the Raiders put together an attractive financial package, one that would make them truly appealing? That’s the (multi-)million dollar question?

The Raiders don’t have tons of salary-cap space. In fact they're up against the threshold, though cutting veterans without guaranteed money easily creates space. The Raiders could keep Suh’s 2018 cap number lower through a signing bonus and fat roster bonuses in future years.

Make no mistake: the cap is not an impenetrable road block. The Raiders might have to get away from contract structuring practices that McKenzie’s people used to reach excellent salary-cap standing. That’s especially true considering the monster deal given to Carr last year and the mega-extension Mack will get soon.

We say all that with one caveat. Suh’s exact team-selection criteria aren’t clear. There’s no telling if this Alameda trip could help create a robust market, or if he’s taking the Raiders seriously. Making the trip means something, however, and will at least give Gruden and Co. a chance to woo Suh, lock him down and radically change expectations for the 2018 season.

Raiders remain on a receiver hunt as their top target signs elsewhere


Raiders remain on a receiver hunt as their top target signs elsewhere

The Raiders missed out on signing Ryan Grant. The former Washington receiver visited the team’s Alameda training complex, but left without a contract and ultimately chose to sign a one-year, $5 million deal with Indianapolis.

They lost that one, but are undeterred in their quest to upgrade the receiver corps.

They already signed Jordy Nelson and let Michael Crabtree walk, hoping for steady production and quality locker room leadership in the exchange.

Cordarrelle Patterson was traded to New England on Sunday, creating a spot in the position group.

The Raiders tried to fill it with Grant. No go, no matter.

They hosted veteran Eric Decker on Tuesday, according to multiple reports. They also declared interest in Allen Hurns, a player the Jaguars released Tuesday morning.

Hurns listed the Raiders among interested teams – he said there were 10 in total – in an interview with KFNZ radio in Charlotte, N.C.

Hurns has a 1,000-yard season to his credit – his biggest year came with now-Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson as Jacksonville's O.C. -- and two relative down years since. Injuries have also played a part in that.

Decker had a stellar four-year run with Denver and the New York Jets, but was less effective during two seasons in Tennessee. The 31-year old has experience in the slot, and could be a productive No. 3 option in Jon Gruden’s offense.

Gruden doesn't mind working with veteran receivers, something clear from his past and willingness to add Nelson as a major contributor. 

Even if the Raiders don't land a veteran receiver, they could also look for a receiver in the NFL draft.

Amari Cooper will remain the No. 1 option. Seth Roberts has $4.45 million guaranteed in 2018. Johnny Holton, Isaac Whitney and Keon Hatcher are also on the roster.