Raiders QB Derek Carr throws game-winning TD in 2018 Pro Bowl


Raiders QB Derek Carr throws game-winning TD in 2018 Pro Bowl


Derek Carr had a pretty good week, all things considered. The Raiders quarterback was named to his third straight Pro Bowl, this time as an alternate replacing Tom Brady.

He was on the initial ballot a year ago, following a 12-4 campaign where he was a legitimate MVP candidate. It ended too early, with a broken fibula ruining the Raiders’ Super Bowl hopes. It obviously took him out of the NFL’s annual all-star game, an afterthought for many of the league’s players and die-hard fans.

Carr would've rather been alive and fighting for a Super Bowl LII title, but accepted this year’s invitation without a second thought.

Let's get one thing clear: it provided zero consolation for a dismal 6-10 campaign where he and the Raiders didn’t realize great expectations, and ultimately got a coaching staff fired. Carr wasn’t going to sulk.

Carr was named to the Pro Bowl Monday– New England’s Super Bowl berth sealed the deal, though Brady likely would’ve skipped anyway with a hand injury – and left for Orlando the next morning. He brought the family, which went to Florida amusement parks most every day while Carr practiced.

Carr won the precision passing contest during the Pro Bowl Skills Challenge, knocking passes through distant or moving targets.

The 26-year old also entered the Guiness Book of World Records, believe it or not, by breaking five piñatas faster than anyone else.

Then on Sunday afternoon, with the AFC down for the count, Carr orchestrated a fourth-quarter comeback. Raiders fans know that sequence well. Carr won seven games late in 2016, and just one during last year’s disappointment.

His touchdown pass to Tennessee tight end Delanie Walker with 92 seconds left (and the ensuing extra point) secured a 24-23 victory and a $64,000 payout for everyone on the AFC roster. The losing team got half that.

"That's as real as it gets in football. You always want to win, especially with money on the line," Carr said after the game, via the Associated Press.

The touchdown pass was well crafted, as was a 12-yard pass to Miami receiver Jarvis Landry – soon to be an unrestricted free agent – on 4th-and-7 to extend the game winning drive.

Carr completed 11-of 15 passes for 115 yards in sum, with an interception and the game-winning touchdown during a rain-soaked affair in Central Florida.

"You've got guys on the sidelines saying, `I need that money,'" Carr said.

He led the AFC on two touchdown drives scores it help eliminate a 17-point halftime deficit, and now enters a long gap between competitive football games on somewhat of a high note.

The Pro Bowl victory doesn’t erase last season’s ills, nor was that expected or even possible. It doesn’t change the fact Carr had a pretty fun week.

He wasn’t the only one. Left guard Kelechi Osemele was in the AFC’s starting lineup, and center Rodney Hudson was a reserve.

Khalil Mack was also voted into the starting lineup, but bowed out with an undisclosed injury. Donald Penn skipped the Pro Bowl recovering from surgery.

Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders


Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden had a hand in drafting Josh Johnson a decade ago. The agile quarterback and Oakland native was a Tampa Bay’s fifth-round pick in 2008, Gruden’s last year as Buccaneers coach.

The pair will reunite in Johnson’s hometown. The well-traveled quarterback signed with the Raiders on Monday, the team announced.

Johnson will compete with Connor Cook to backup starter Derek Carr, and brings a veteran’s influence to the position group. It likely spells the end of EJ Manuel’s short tenure in silver and black. The strong-armed former first-round pick, who started one game last season, remains a free agent after a year with the Raiders.

This move should make Marshawn Lynch happy. He and Johnson are extremely close and together run the Family First Foundation, a charitable organization that does significant work for East Bay kids. Johnson and Lynch also played football together at Oakland Tech High.

Johnson has played 10 NFL teams prior to this Raiders stop, but hasn’t played in a regular-season game for some time.

Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'


Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden needed specific tools to run his running game. He wanted blocking tight ends and a bruising fullback, relics of a bygone offensive era.

“If Marshawn Lynch is the feature back, I think it’d be nice if we serviced him with a fullback,” Gruden said at the combine. … You need a blocking tight end if you’re going to slam the ball with a beast. So, those are two things that I’m looking for.”

Gruden said he wanted to import some old-school elements to help run with brute force.

Enter free-agent fullback Kyle Smith and tight end Derek Carrier. Welcome back, Lee Smith.

Then, on Sunday, Raiders made another vital move in this old school effort. They cut Marshawn Lynch a $1 million check.

The Oakland native’s roster bonus came due and the Raiders had no problem paying it, the clearest sign Lynch will be the Raiders feature back in 2018.

He’ll have a great chance to thrive in that role. The Raiders have a hulking, expensive offensive line (that still needs a right tackle). They have new ancillary blocking elements, and the centerpiece remains in place.

That last part was expected in recent weeks. The coaching staff, offensive line coach Tom Cable especially, wanted Lynch back. NFL Network confirmed those facts, stating Lynch will be around in 2018.

That was the case, even with Doug Martin’s addition. The former Tampa Bay back is expected to be a backup bruiser, someone who might put DeAndre Washington or (less likely) Jalen Richard’s job in jeopardy.

The Raiders can cut Lynch without a cap hit. Lynch is scheduled to make $6 million in salary and bonuses, with another $2 million available in incentives. The Raiders should hope to pay those; it would mean Lynch is running well.

The Raiders have given him a great opportunity to do so. They have solid blocking and a coach in Cable who helped him succeed during dominant days in Seattle.

Lynch proved he’s still got it in 2017’s second half, with 70 percent of his 891 rushing yards in the final eight games. He struggled early on, and upset some fans by helping the opposition during a scuffle with Kansas City. That mitigated a PR bump the Raiders looked for when signing a popular Oakland native just months after committing to Las Vegas long-term.

Jack Del Rio and staff grew tired of what they perceived as leeway given to Lynch unavailable to others, and probably wouldn’t have kept him on if still gainfully employed.

Gruden seems committed to Lynch this season, though nothing is ever 100 percent with an enigmatic rusher who doesn’t make private thoughts public.

His elusive, rough-and-tumble rushing style fits well with what Gruden wants, though he demands commitment to the team and sport. Sports Illustrated relayed a story of Gruden saying he needed a “full-time Lynch.”

If he gets that, the Raiders run game should thrive.