ALAMEDA – Derek Carr is playing in his sixth NFL season, already going through his second Raiders rebuild. That’s one too many for his taste, but he understands it was required after head coach Jon Gruden took control before last season.
The quarterback’s goal was to expedite the often-painstaking process wherever possible and never use that fact to excuse subpar team play.
“The expectations have definitely changed, which was my goal,” Carr said on this week’s Raiders Talk podcast. “My attitude was, ‘rebuild this.’ I’m 28 years old. I’m trying to win now.”
The bar has been raised for a young team reliant on an excellent rookie class and a franchise quarterback playing his best football.
It was pretty low after the Antonio Brown fiasco, with a five-game road trip and brutal slate overall ahead of them. The Raiders navigated those issues and others that came about pretty well, positioning themselves to move into a tie atop the AFC West with a victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
Oddsmakers don’t think the Raiders can do that. The Silver and Black are double-digit underdogs heading into a cold-weather game, coming off a thrashing against the Jets. They’ll have to buck some trends to win this one, but the Raiders still see an opportunity they don’t want to pass up.
“Everyone wants to get so high when you’re winning, but we have to sit back and be real about it,” Carr said. “We’re building something. I say that first because it’s just a fact. We’re young and rebuilding, but that’s no excuse because we have proven that, when everybody shows up, we can beat anybody. The mindset is, ‘let’s do it now.’ If we all just do right, we can go into Arrowhead and come out with a victory. We can go into four games after that and win. We know it’s going to get harder from here on out. Hopefully, everyone responds the right way and we’re ready to rock.”
Carr is ready to play this huge game, ready to prove he can succeed in the cold and at Arrowhead Stadium, where critics say he can’t. He’s used to voices of dissent saying he can’t or he won’t. Yes, he hears them. No, he doesn’t care what they say.
He doesn’t bother trying to argue anymore, not even with career highs in completion percentage and yards per attempt and several other meaningful metrics. He understands that is futile. Some people, some Raiders fans, don’t like him and never will. That was tough to accept at first, but that fact has hardened him some and added an edge to his outlook and his play.
"I'd almost say numb to it, but in a good way," Carr said. "For so long, I cared too much about what other people thought. I’m a people pleaser. I want everyone to be happy, and when I couldn’t do that no matter how hard I tried, it was hard. I was busting my tail trying to do every single thing right and be a good teammate, and I couldn’t figure out why people didn’t like that. When they don’t know you, it’s tough.
“But I’ve gotten to a place where I’m married with three kids. I’m a grown man. I really don’t care what anyone has to say. I’m going to parent-teacher conferences. I don’t have time to care about what outsiders think. What I’ve come to understand is that you always find a stat on Twitter that makes you like me or not like me. All I know is that I love being a Raider and I’m not going to play for anyone else. This is my team. This is the team I love. This is the team I give everything for. If people like that, awesome. If not, they’re going to have to get used to it.”
While defiant of outside expectations, Carr's internal bar has gone up for good. His play has reached a new, higher plateau. He doesn't use numbers to support that claim or any other argument and doesn't care about those used against him. He has a different standard of excellence
"The numbers you know how I feel about those. They get skewed sometimes," Carr said. "I want to answer a few simple questions: Does the guy know what he's doing? Is he doing it at a high level? And, is he getting better? These coaches push me so hard that they've helped me raise the standards. I'll do whatever a coach says, and they give me a list of things after every game. I love that. .. We're at a place where the bar has been raised. This is where we're at now. There's no going back."