Raiders

Despite setbacks, Raiders still confident heading into playoffs

Despite setbacks, Raiders still confident heading into playoffs

HOUSTON – Derek Carr’s broken fibula cast a dark cloud over Alameda when the sun was supposed to shine. It shrouded what should’ve been a glorious time, when the Raiders could revel in a season well done.

The AFC West title, a first-round bye and even the conference’s top seed were there for the taking. All fell prostrate by the wayside.

Quarterback trouble slowed a racecar once speeding into the postseason with lofty aspirations in mind. Many have written the Raiders off, even in a wild-card round game against the beatable Houston Texans.

They’ve used last week’s awful performance against Denver as evidence the Raiders can’t win without Carr.

His loss influenced that Broncos debacle. There’s no arguing that. The Raiders were still reeling from his fall and played awful.

While there is no replacing an MVP candidate, the skies have lifted some. They still aren’t a clear blue, not after Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn was rule out on Friday afternoon.

That’s yet another blow to a team already off balance, but the Raiders plan to find footing and fight back.

This is the playoffs, after all, and the Raiders aren’t about to let an opportunity slip. A young core weathered terrible seasons before this season’s return to prominence, and know qualifying for the postseason is special.

“I’m excited. This is what you play for,” running back Latavius Murray said. “It’s the opportunity we wanted from Day 1. Just because some things haven’t gone our way the past few weeks, we can’t let it determine how we’re going to go forward. This is what we wanted, and now we have it. We have to give it everything we’ve got.”

A victory in Houston seems improbable after all that’s happened lately. It is not impossible, even with Carr and Penn unavailable. The Raiders still have to play their way out of a rut.

Khalil Mack’s defense feels a responsibility to lead them out. The run game does, too.

The entire team must play better to take pressure off rookie quarterback Connor Cook, who makes his first start Saturday after spending 15 games inactive as the No. 3 quarterback.

Players don’t think that’ll add pressure to Saturday’s proceedings, though there is significant hype surrounding these postseason games. Those on the roster with playoff experience suggest everyone relax, but only a little bit.

“It’s still football game, but if you lose there’s no next one,” Raiders edge rusher Bruce Irvin said. “There’s a sense of urgency that needs to come with it this week. Guys have to be focused on their assignment and hone in on the game plan so I can be back next week talking to you all again.”

The Raiders are excited, and in a good mood heading into this game. They’re thinking upset, something rare for a 12-4 team in contention for the AFC’s top seed last week.

There’s an underdog story to be told after the past few weeks, and the Raiders are ready to give it a happy ending.

“Our spirits are high,” free safety Reggie Nelson said. “I don’t think no guys got low on themselves (after the Denver loss). They’re at home right now and we are in the playoffs. What more can you ask for? We’re worried about Houston right now. We’re in the playoffs and we’re going to have fun.”

Derek Carr hopes pivotal Raiders offseason can expedite rebuilding process

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Derek Carr hopes pivotal Raiders offseason can expedite rebuilding process

Derek Carr is tired of burning daylight. He’s done some of that already, cycling through four head coaches, four offensive play callers and three offensive schemes in five NFL seasons. He was a young player brought in as part of a roster rebuild that worked.

It just didn’t last long. The Raiders fell back on hard times following a 12-4 campaign in 2016, and now head coach Jon Gruden’s fully committed to another radical reconstruction.

Gruden traded Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, guys who could’ve helped the Raiders win last season. He acquired others who didn’t, namely Martavis Bryant and Ryan Switzer and several veteran defenders who won’t see another season in silver and black.

Now the Raiders enter the offseason with an arsenal: three first-round draft picks and $76 million in salary-cap space without anyone deserving of a long-term extension that must factor into the budget.

Carr’s hoping all those tools will expedite the rebuilding process. He doesn’t want to waste more seasons doing it slow, and hopes Gruden can import several impact players in one offseason.

“We need some guys who can come in and help us now,” Carr said in an interview with 940-AM in Fresno. “We have some good building pieces. We have some foundational pieces. Obviously, we have a quarterback, so we don’t need one of those. That’s the good thing.

“We just need some players who can help us win now. We’re building this thing. We’ve been building this thing. We’ve built this thing a couple of times. It’s time to get people who can just come in and help us now. There are a lot of veterans on this team who signed contracts or signed extensions or free-agent deals to come play here because we want to win and we believe in this system and what we’re doing.”

[RELATED: How Raiders can realistically improve Derek Carr's supporting cast]

Count Carr among them. He signed a $125 million extension believing incumbent stars would also be here long term and find sustained success. That wish never came true, and now Gruden’s looking to remake the franchise with new guys.

This offseason will be pivotal in Gruden’s success. It could turn things around quickly, as Carr hopes, if he and general manager Mike Mayock lock onto the right guys.

“If we get three players who are NFL ready right now, if we get three starters from those three (first-round picks) or maybe four if you count some of the other picks…,” Carr said, trailing off. “And we have some cash to spend. We have a lot of cap room. If we can spend that cap and that capital and get some good veteran players, not just average guys but guys who can make a difference, (that would be positive). We’re a lot closer than people give us credit for.”

Raiders Derek Carr dismissed by Khalil Mack when asked about being dunked on

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Raiders Derek Carr dismissed by Khalil Mack when asked about being dunked on

Khalil Mack and Derek Carr remained close even after they stopped being teammates. Carr was devastated to lose Mack in a trade for a Raiders' future draft compensation, both in the locker room and on the field.

Beyond the friendship, the two became main members of the silver and black, and brought much promise to the organization and hoped to create a culture change.

That, unfortunately, didn't come to fruition. 

But we're lucky they still participate in Twitter exchanges to show there are no hard feelings and the bromance is still alive and well. But most recently, they showed there will always be a competitive nature between the two.

Carr answered some questions on his YouTube channel Thursday. But someone wanted to ask via Twitter if he will still dunk on Khalil Mack in the offseason after it became public knowledge Mack has already dunked on him at David Carr's house.

The answer? Without question:

Well, that settles that, but we won't truly believe it until we see it. But at least there's the 1-on-1 win that Carr had against Mack.

Your move, Carr.