Derek Carr's latest Raiders comeback shows growth under Jon Gruden

Derek Carr's latest Raiders comeback shows growth under Jon Gruden

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.”

Foster Moreau defends Raiders' 2019 rookie class, claps back on Twitter

Foster Moreau defends Raiders' 2019 rookie class, claps back on Twitter

Oh, the disrespect. 

The Raiders' 2019 draft class was one of the best in recent seasons, in all of the NFL. Running back Josh Jacobs was an Offensive Rookie of the Year finalist, and defensive end Maxx Crosby was up for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Apparently that doesn't mean much to's Gennaro Filice and Nick Shook. 

The duo of writers gave the Silver and Black's rookie class an A- grade, but ranked them as just the seventh-best in the NFL. That didn't sit well with Raiders rookie tight end Foster Moreau. 

As Moreau's tweet shows, the Raiders' rookie class finished first in rushing yards, first in receptions, first in yards from scrimmage, first in scrimmage TDs and first in sacks. Case closed. 

Moreau himself had 21 receptions for 174 yards and caught five TDs in 13 games. The fourth-round draft pick's rookie year was cut short with a knee injury. Before his injury, he impressed coaches as a run blocker, pass protector and receiver.

On offense, Jacobs led the way. Many believe he was snubbed as Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray was voted as Offensive Rookie of the Year. Jacobs broke almost every Raiders rookie rushing record, most of which were previously held by Marcus Allen. The Alabama product averaged 4.8 yards per carry and had 1,1150 rushing yards despite missing three of the last four games with a fractured shoulder.

Hunter Renfrow, selected in the fifth round of the draft, had the second-most receiving yards by a Raiders receiver this season, despite also missing three games to injury. Renfrow finished the 2019 season with 49 receptions for 605 yards and four touchdowns. 

Crosby, a steal out of the fourth round, totaled 10 sacks -- the second-most by any rookie throughout the league. He led the Raiders in sacks and tackles for loss (19), 9.5 more than fellow rookie teammate Clelin Ferrell. 

[RELATED: How Raiders' 2019 rookies are laying bedrock for success]

Ferrell, the No. 4 pick in last year's draft, vowed to return a completely different player. Safety Johnathan Abram, the No. 27 pick from last year, will be back and healthy in 2020.

The Raiders had a three-win improvement this past season. With a great rookie season behind them, the 2019 draft class can take the Raiders to new heights as they move to Las Vegas.

Why reported Darius Slay trade from Lions makes sense for Raiders

Why reported Darius Slay trade from Lions makes sense for Raiders

The Raiders were on the verge of the playoffs this past season, but their passing game took yet another step back. Besides the emergence of rookie Trayvon Mullen, the Silver and Black have plenty of question marks at cornerback as they move to Las Vegas. 

There could be help available, though. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Monday that the Detroit Lions have talked to multiple teams regarding a trade for their Pro Bowl cornerback, Darius Slay. 

Between need, their slew of draft picks and available cap space, the Raiders could be a perfect fit for a trade with the Lions. Let's start with how Slay would fit in the defense. 

Mullen is expected to man one side of the defensive backfield at cornerback, while the other side is a bit of a mystery. Daryl Worley is a free agent this offseason, but Nevin Lawson, Nick Nelson, Keisean Nixon and Isaiah Johnson all are options. None are Slay, though. Not even close. 

Slay, 29, made his third straight Pro Bowl this last season. He also was a First Team All-Pro in 2017 when he led the NFL with eight interceptions and 26 passes defensed. Since 2014, Slay has recorded at least two interceptions and 13 passes defensed every season. 

Per advanced analytics site Pro Football Focus, Slay has been the fifth-best cornerback in the game since 2014. 

The Raiders also have the draft picks to get a deal done. They own two first-round picks -- Nos. 12 and 19 -- this April, as well as three in the third round, one in the fourth and one in the seventh. They have plenty of leverage to make a move. 

Las Vegas also lands right in the middle of current available salary-cap space going into next season. According to Spotrac, the Raiders have slightly over $51.5 million in salary-cap space. Slay, who has a $13.4 million cap hit in 2020, wants a new contract as he's set to hit free agency after this upcoming season. 

[RELATED: Ex-Raider Nnamdi Asomugha talks about his life on Broadway]

He likely would cost more than a few extra pennies, but it's clear Slay still can be a solid corner in a division where everyone is chasing QB Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. 

The Raiders could target a cornerback early in the draft. That's not out of the question at all. If the Lions are taking calls on Slay like Schefter reported, Raiders general manager Mike Mayock would be wise to listen.