Derek Carr has been nails in the fourth quarter this season. The Raiders quarterback has orchestrated five fourth-quarter comebacks already this season, and has contributed to seven wins decided by a touchdown or less.
The Raiders have been asked why Carr is so good down the stretch several times this season. So has the 25-year old quarterback, and answers tend to center around being emotionally stable, finding zen with chaos all around. That allows him to be smart and decisive under pressure to lead his band of skill players and a hulking offensive line downfield with ease.
And if Carr seems to get better as a game progresses, that’s no fluke. That’s because he’s learning.
Carr is adept at identifying what works, what doesn’t and what matchups can be exploited in real time. When the fourth quarter hits, he’s a smarter quarterback than when the game kicked off and ready to apply it with a steady hand.
“I don’t think anything switches with him, that’s probably the key,” offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said last week. “He’s steady, he’s even-keeled and we just talked about the games having ebb and flow, the season has ebb and flow, but every game you’re going to have your ups and downs and he stays steady throughout.
“I think that allows him to accumulate information as the game goes on like a quarterback getting smarter the longer the down goes, he accumulates information. So, I think Derek gathers this information throughout the game and he continues to improve once we get into the second half.”
The numbers certainly bear that out. Carr’s fourth quarter numbers are excellent, with a 121.3 passer rating in that period, which jumps to 128.0 if the game’s within seven points.
He has 946 yards, nine touchdowns and an interception in the fourth quarter, averaging 9.2 yards per attempt.
Last season, those numbers were flipped. His 2015 passer rating was 67.5, by far his worst at any stage of the game, with six touchdowns and seven interceptions.
That’s a major reason why the Raiders are 9-2, because they perform so well in the clutch.
“Derek does a really good job of identifying ways to exploit a defense a second time around,” center Rodney Hudson said. “If we see something a second time, he generally knows how to beat it.
“…It helps you play faster when you know what you’re doing and exactly how to do it. That’s a good thing.”
While the quarterback leads this charge, the Raiders have a solid system in place of finding ways to make plays late in games.
“I think it’s really healthy, really strong,” head coach Jack Del Rio said on Monday. :I think the relationship that Derek has with (quarterbacks coach) Todd (Downing) and with Bill and the way they’ve put it together and take his input and gather information as we go through the game. Having a veteran like (Michael Crabtree), he sees things. He’ll relate that information to us. A coach like (offensive line coach) Mike Tice, that helps keep him protected, it all adds up into it.
“I do believe that’s an advantage for us to do it well and do it better. That’s one of the areas where we’ve grown from last year to this year. I think it’s smoother and maybe more confident. I think there’s a level of trust that’s been built and that is a part of what we do.”