OAKLAND -- Derek Carr has 16 fourth-quarter comebacks to his credit. There’s only one the Raiders quarterback values more than Sunday’s 24-21 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Beating the Kansas City Chiefs on an untimed down last year is at the top of his list, but the latest win is just below it.
“This is my second-favorite win, ever,” Carr said. “If they were in our division, it would be first. This is definitely my second.”
Carr’s latest conquest is worthy of high esteem. He eliminated two fourth-quarter deficits, the last one with a touchdown pass to tight end Derek Carrier on fourth down with 21 seconds remaining. It was the Raiders' final shot to win this game, and Carr found his man open in the end zone.
There was some drama after that, but the Raiders held on for the win.
“Derek [Carr] played great today,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “ … Carr brought us back twice in the fourth quarter and made some great throws and great audibles. I am really proud of him.”
This was Carr at his absolute finest, as good as he was in 2016 when he was a legitimate NFL MVP candidate. He completed 25 of 34 passes for 322 yards, two touchdowns and a 122.4 passer rating.
Carr didn’t throw an interception, and hasn’t since Week 5. That's not just because he’s playing it safe, either. Carr threaded needles most of the game, with one dime after another to work the ball downfield as the Raiders’ run game was largely ineffective.
Carr was as assertive as he’s been all season, clearly confident in his decisions and ability to run Gruden’s offense well. That’s a sign that Carr is making progress operating within a complex system.
“It’s no secret that Jon Gruden demands a lot of him,” tight end Lee Smith said. “He has the status he has, as a mad scientist for a reason. It’s a hard, demanding system to learn, and we’re finally starting to see him and Derek mesh and be on the same wavelength.
“Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady and Drew Brees have been with their coaches forever. Derek’s had like 30 weeks with this guy. The more and more they mesh and the more and more they get on the same page where they can read each other’s minds, it’s going to be dangerous.”
Smith has a point. Carr is building a rapport with Gruden, and has been far more efficient as the season has worn on.
“He has played great,” Gruden said. “He has seen the Ravens and their heck of a defense on the road. He played great there. He played well against the Chiefs. He gave us the possession to win in the fourth quarter. The Pittsburgh Steelers with the division on the line. This is a must-win for them.
“He sees the field, he’s really confident. It doesn’t matter who he plays with him, it doesn’t matter who the left guard is, it doesn’t matter who the X or Z receiver is. It is a real credit to him.”
Carr credits a conversation with Gruden for increased comfort playing in this system. Gruden sat Carr down and told him to play free, to relax and trust his instincts.
“Honestly, when he said that, it was freeing to me,” Carr said. “I thought I was trying to prove something to him. It kind of settled me down. He’s a great coach. He calmed me down. Listen, man, do exactly the way I’ve taught you. … Just having those kind of conversations and learning from him and him just not blowing me off — he really sat me down and just talked to me. We worked really hard together.
“I think that’s the reason our communication is something else that we can laugh at sometimes, but our communication is what got us to this point where I can play freely.”