Dec 7, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) prepares to run a play against the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth quarter at O.co Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the 49ers 24-13. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
The single most important position on the football field is the quarterback. In the modern NFL, you can not win consistently and can not hope to win championships unless you have a franchise passer running your offense. The Raiders have been searching for such a player since Rich Gannon retired, and this franchise has not drafted a franchise caliber passer in nearly its entire history. Until 2014.
Derek Carr, a second round draft pick out of Fresno State this year, has been the Raiders starter all season, showing a lot of promise, some moments of outright greatness, and many moments of rookie nerves and inexperience. But he’s remained the starter, putting together a solid rookie campaign that has him on pace to throw for over 3,000 yards and 20 TD’s, a feat accomplished by a Raider quarterback only three times since 2002 (Kerry Collins in 2004 & 2005, Carson Palmer in 2012). He has outperformed every other quarterback taken in the last two drafts, including all three quarterbacks taken before him this year.
His signature game for most of the season was his 4-TD performance in an early-season loss to San Diego, but even that game was not without flaws: he completed less than 53% of his passes and threw a late interception on an unnecessary deep pass that sealed the loss. In the Raiders’ first win on the season against Kansas City nearly three weeks ago, he struggled against the Chiefs defense before throwing the game-winning touchdown strike late. Much of his production this year has come in “garbage time,” late in blowout losses, and he also deserved a share of the blame for leading one of the league’s most inept offenses.
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All that was put behind him against San Francisco on Sunday. Exploiting a weak secondary (weakened further by the in-game injury to Chris Culliver) and a pair of young, backup interior linebackers, Derek Carr shredded the normally vaunted 49ers defense on Sunday to the tune of 254 yards and 3 TD’s, completing nearly 79% of his passes. He was 8 for 9 passing on 3rd down, converting five of those attempts, including all three touchdowns. Coming off a week where he was harassed by a very good Rams pass rush into the worst game of his young career, he had his first true signature win as a starting quarterback, in front of a home crowd against the cross-bridge rivals.
Carr proved against the 49ers that he can lead the team to victory with his arm, but it wasn’t his first time leading the team to victory. Against Kansas City, Carr had a very mediocre passing performance, but it was his actions late that helped the team win the game. Twice on the late 4th quarter clock-killing drive, Carr converted key first downs on the ground with sneak plays, including on a 4th and 1. He also hit a key 3rd down pass on that drive, and of course he ended the drive by hitting James Jones for the game winner, using his eyes to help draw the coverage into biting on a corner route before Jones broke to the post.
Carr has shown over and over that he can be a leader, a great teammate, and a clutch performer when he’s put in the right positions. When supported by solid pass-blocking, good receiver play, a competent run game and even a decent scheme, Carr can make things happen for the team, and he has shown great growth throughout the year that bodes well for his development into next season and the years to come. The Raiders finally have a quarterback.