OAKLAND – The Raiders had a chance to beat the Kansas City Chiefs and blew it. The offense took possession with roughly six minutes remaining and went three-and-out.
The Raiders defense gave their teammates another chance. A Kansas City three-and-out insured that, though they were down six points and had just 2:25 to work with. The starting XI huddled on their 15-yard line, and quarterback Derek Carr surveyed his surroundings.
Familiar faces were set at every angle around him, guys he knew had come through in the clutch. This, he could tell, was a composed bunch. There was no fear or anxiety, no mental fatigue from four straight losses.
“Those moments can be emotional, but they aren’t for us,” left guard Kelechi Osemele said. “There’s an expectation, a belief that we’ll get the job done. We won’t be denied.”
Success breeds confidence. The Raiders finished seven fourth-quarter, game winning drives last year. They were ready to do it again.
“We’ve done this a couple of times together,” Carr said. “So when we took the field that last time, I looked at (center Rodney Hudson) and said, ‘Alright, let’s go.’ I looked at my wideouts and I didn’t have to say anything. They said, ‘We got you, just throw it up.’
“That makes the quarterback’s heart beat a little bit slower when you know you have guys that have your back.”
Derek Carr worked the ball downfield and completed a 31-30 victory with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree. That’s the CliffsNotes. The unabridged version was downright dramatic, with some improv at the end.
Carr has completed some improbable comebacks, but Thursday earned the gold.
“Not even close,” Carr said. “Absolutely. I can’t even say it better. Yes. It sure was.”
Nothing came easy, even at the start. Carr started the drive with a 15-yard pass to Amari Cooper, whose 39-yard reception a bit later bailed his team out of a 2nd-and-20 jam.
Jared Cook took over from there. His 13-yard catch converted a 4th-and-11. He later hauled in a 29-yard bomb that was originally called a touchdown but overturned on review. The catch was good, but Cook was officially down at the 1-yard line with 18 seconds left.
“I thought I got it in,” Cook said. “Even after the replay I saw I thought I got it in. At least that’s what it looked like on the jumbotron. He didn’t touch me. It was a great ball by Derek. It was a play that boosted us and helped us get the win.”
A 10-second runoff – Cook was technically tackled in bounds – left eight ticks remaining. Down that close with so little time, Carr had simple instructions.
“At that moment, you just have to find a one-on-one with the coverages that they’re playing and give somebody a chance,” Carr said. “There’s nothing technical about it. At that point, I’m telling the guys in the huddle, ‘Look I’ve got to give somebody a chance now. Go make a play.’ They did a couple of times.”
They did it a couple times without a formal play call. Carr just called out routes on the fly, like he was quarterbacking a street football game.
"He was dicing it up right there," left tackle Donald Penn said. "The call didn't get in a couple times, so he had to just tell the receivers what to do. It was pretty nice. At times I didn't even know what he was calling. I figured I would just protect and let D.C. do his thing."
The first went from Carr to Crabtree for a 1-yard touchown negated by offensive pass interference. Back it up.
The next pass fell incomplete, but Cook drew a defensive holding call as time expired. That set up an untimed down for the whole shebang.
Or so we thought.
Carr threw incomplete to Cordarrelle Patterson, who was also held.
The second untimed down went according to plan. Carr to Crabtree from two yards out. No flags. One game-deciding touchdown.
Crabtree was the primary target, though Carr still has reads to make.
“There’s a progression to it,” Carr said. “‘Crab’ is first and I was calling for that play. If there’s one thing about ‘Crab,’ it doesn’t matter what happens throughout the rest of the game, he always shows up.”
The entire offense typically does in the clutch, especially last year. Carr has led a baker’s dozen now, and is a lot more comfortable in those spots. This last one, however, made him think of his first.
Maybe because latest came on a Thursday night, against the Kansas City, exactly like his maiden comeback. The Raiders were 0-10 back in 2014, and Carr willed his first professional victory with a short strike to James Jones, his only reliable receiver. He recalled it fondly, but shuttered at the stress and anxiety that used to accompany late-game drives.
“I remember the first two-minute drive we ever had or fourth quarter comeback was Thursday Night against the Chiefs, and there’s not a lot of familiar faces from that huddle,” Carr said. “Now moving forward the last couple of years, we’ve grown our culture and the guys that are here, our core guys. We can get the job done.”
God love Marshawn Lynch, for all he is, and all he isn’t.
All he is, is an Oakland icon. Not a Raider icon, or a Cal icon, or a Seahawks icon. An Oakland icon, because he did the most Oaklandish things Thursday night, and became a national debate point on Friday – while seemingly giving nary a toss about either.
He ran onto the field from the sideline to intervene in a potential fight in the Chiefs-Raiders piefight at the Coliseum. He grabbed an official and got ejected. He left the locker room, presumably to go home while the game was still going on, only to turn up in the stands to watch the end, go back to the locker room to celebrate with his teammates, and then BART home with Kansas City’s Marcus Peters, one of Lynch’s truest homies, who instigated the near to-do by hitting Oakland quarterback Derek Carr late.
Any of these things would have made Football America turn purple. All of them became a period piece, and the next debating bone upon which Football America will chew.
Namely, whether Lynch is a problem for the team that sought him out. They look to Jack Del Rio to teach the man some decorum esprit de corps, or fly in the face of owner Mark Davis and show him the door.
Likely, neither will happen. Del Rio may grind his teeth about Lynch, and he occasionally does, but there is no evidence other than the bleating of the drool-based punditocracy, that Lynch impedes progress. He has been singled out as a reason the Raider offense hasn’t functioned very well this year, and their late burst Thursday night will fuel that correlation-causation fire.
But the offense has sputtered on its own, and in varied ways. It has been conservative, predictable and even timid, and that is not Lynch’s doing. Playmaker (or playbreaker) Amari Cooper was targeted 18 times in the first two games, 21 times in weeks 3 through 6, and 19 times Thursday night, as the Raiders tried to decide whether he was sufficiently trustworthy.
Frankly, the oh-the-hell-with-it ethos that made them such a tough out last year had disappeared, and that isn’t a Lynch construct either.
But Thursday night, they reverted to their 2016 ways. Del Rio, Carr and offensive coordinator Todd Downing decided they had no choice but to take Cooper as he is, and made him the focus in 25 percent of their plays and more than a third of their passes.
But that’s the football stuff. The debate turns are going to be about Lynch, and whether he is bad for the proper working order of the Raiders. The evidence suggests that he isn’t, and that he isn’t really what will define this team anyway.
What will define it, it seems increasingly clear, is how willing it is to do what feels good rather than what is metrically approved. The Raiders cast themselves last year as a 53-man attitude, and showed Thursday night that the attitude plan still works, hand in glove with precision and work habits and all the other ethics that induce people to play a madman’s game.
How much you choose to credit (or blame) Marshawn Lynch for that attitude is up to you. But if it helps, he won’t be listening. Unless maybe you bump into him on BART.