ALAMEDA – Raiders quarterback Derek Carr connected with Amari Cooper six times for 183 yards and the receiver’s first touchdown of the year.
AC/DC, it seemed, flowed a maximum voltage. Apparently there was a short circuit.
Carr and Cooper conceded that point following Sunday’s 34-31 victory over the San Diego Chargers. There were 12 exchanges between them, with too many opportunities missed. A pair of touchdowns ruled incomplete come to mind, though there’s certainly more devils in the details.
“We left so much out there. It’s too much,” Carr said. “We can’t do that. We’re not going to get away with that every time. We do a great job at holding each other accountable, whether I can make a better throw or him doing a better route. Whatever it is, we’re going to work on it together.
“We scored 34 points and we’re disappointed. That’s a good feeling. It’s a really good thing that as an offense we’re there. If we can have that many yards and points and still feel like we haven’t scratched the surface of what we can do. That’s a good thing.”
Cornerback Sean Smith had his second interception this season against Philip Rivers, and it was a beauty. He baited a deep throw, undercut a route and stole the show. It was one of four turnovers, which would typically be a point of postgame pride.
Not when paired with 423 yards allowed, including 359 through the air.
“When you think about those yards, when you go into the details as a defense this is going to catch up to us,” Smith said. “We have some work to improve, but we’ll take this win.”
The Raiders aren’t disappointed to be 4-1, in a tie atop the AFC West. Not by a long shot. They aren’t thrilled with current play, believing there’s great potential unrealized within this group.
Working while winning is an NFL team’s ultimate goal, with a peak somewhere closer to winter. The Raider chests haven’t puffed over this hot start, a fact appreciated by this coaching staff.
“I think we have a healthy perspective of what we want to look like and knowing that we’re not quite there,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “There is a lot of work in front of us. I don’t think anybody would disagree with that. There is a long season in front of us, a lot of things we must do better as we go forward. We’re working hard at it. We’ll continue that. I think the fact that the guys recognize that is a healthy thing.”
This isn’t to say the Raiders aren’t doing several things right. They rank No. 3 in the NFL with a plus-7 turnover margin.
They have the No. 3-rated total offense, which averages 28.4 points per game. Their red-zone efficiency has been excellent. Carr’s now considered a top-flight quarterback, with a 102.3 passer rating, 11 touchdowns, two interceptions and two fourth-quarter comebacks to his credit. Cooper has been dynamic; Crabtree has been clutch. The run game’s been efficient with 5.0 yards per carry.
And, above all else, these Raiders have finished strong. They’ve won three times when trailing late, with their best performance in the fourth quarter.
There is some wonder how often the Raiders can dig a hole and then strike oil. Del Rio doesn’t think his team is playing with fire.
His players would like to get up early and stay there one of these weeks, instead of relying on heroics for every win.
“One thing about this team is we don’t give up,” safety Reggie Nelson said. “We’ve showed that numerous times now. We really don’t want to be in that position, but it just so happens to be it. We just got to keep on getting better each week and not put ourselves in those positions.”
The stress won’t wear on the Raiders when they win. Losing consecutive close ones certainly will, but confidence built early can maintain optimism through rough patches. The Raiders are still in search of a complete win, one that would be give heart rates respite.
“It would be nice if we didn’t have to do the stress and drama in the end,” Carr said. “That would be nice, but knowing this league, we’re going to keep fighting, straining. Coach Del Rio uses that word a lot, strain. It’s never going to be easy. We can never expect it to be easy. We have to go out there and strain for everything and earn everything.”
Sitting at 4-1, the Raiders haven’t earned anything yet. It constitutes a hot start to be sure, and is encouraging that wins have come without the Silver and Black’s best. The ultimate goal is to win the AFC West and/or end a 13-year playoff drought. That’ll take several more wins, especially in a division featuring the Super Bowl champs. 4-1 is a hot start, nothing more.
“It’s nice, but the road still goes to Denver,” Carr said. “They are Super Bowl champs, division champs. I will always pay respects to them because that’s what they’ve earned. We have earned absolutely nothing yet. We have earned four wins in five games, which is a great feeling. It’s a great feeling, trust me. Don’t twist that. It feels really nice, but we haven’t done anything yet.”