With their backs against the wall and no momentum in their favor, the Oakland Raiders answered the call to their biggest challenge yet.
Every great player has a career defining game. A performance that draws a catchy name of some kind — “The Flu Game” for Michael Jordan or simply “The Willis Reed Game” for Willis Reed. Now we have “The Pinky Game” for Derek Carr.
Alright, so maybe that’s a bit dramatic…sue me. No, this isn’t a career defining game for Carr, but it’s certainly an impressive, gutty performance that deserves to be talked about.
Early in the third quarter, with a 24-7 lead, Carr took a snap under center from Rodney Hudson. But a freak accident of sorts happened, and Oakland’s franchise quarterback ended up dislocating the pinky on his throwing hand.
The botched snap resulted in a fumble, and the Panthers would cut the deficit down to 24-14 a short time later. But at this point, the touchdown was the least of concerns for Raider Nation.
Especially when the sideline reporter is saying things like this:
And Derek Carr himself would say later that it was the most pain he had ever been in.
It was a scary moment for Raiders fans everywhere. At 8-2, with Oakland actually being competitive for the first time in a long time, it would have been devastating to have everything taken away in a matter of seconds. Many of us, myself included, were willing and able to offer a solution.
But to the collective relief of every person with any sort of interest in the Raiders, no one had to sacrifice a pinky finger as Derek Carr emerged from the tunnel a few minutes later.
It was a sight to behold, and a moment to be proud of as a Raiders fan. With a glove on his hand, Carr grabbed his helmet, threw it on, and began warming up with Michael Crabtree. He was going back into the game.
Carr took the field to massive cheers — but unfortunately, things didn’t go smoothly. Carr, to his credit, made a few nice plays early in his return to the game, but an interception that led to a touchdown was just one of several plays that culminated in an awful third quarter for the Raiders.
The Raiders choked a 24-7 lead, giving up 18 unanswered points in the quarter. A comfortable lead turned into a 25-24 deficit, with their franchise quarterback ailing, the defense gassed, and the outcome looking bleak.
Everything that could have gone wrong, did go wrong. The Raiders defense gave up several big plays, and unlike other times the Raiders had trailed in the 4th quarter, this felt different.
In every other game, with a healthy Derek Carr at the helm, there was a certain level of confidence to be had — that the Raiders could win the game. But with a busted pinky, it was far from a certainty that Oakland could claw its way to another W.
But as they’ve done so many this season — as Derek Carr has done so many times this season — the Raiders put together a game-winning drive, and moved to 9-2 on the season.
And it was thanks to their leader, once again. Trailing 32-24, Carr manufactured a drive that was capped by a Clive Walford highlight grab for a touchdown. And needing a two-point conversion to tie the game, Carr found Seth Roberts split between two defenders, who got crushed, but managed to hang on.
The Panthers failed to capitalize on offense, giving Carr and the offense an opportunity to win the game. Which is exactly what they did.
Carr stood tall in the pocket, threw a 49-yard bomb downfield and connected with Michael Crabtree. A few plays later, Sebastian Janikowski kicked a go-ahead field goal, which proved to be the game-winner.
It wasn’t just Carr who responded to the challenge. The Panthers still had time to march down field to tie or win the game, but the defense held strong. After a horrible third quarter, the unit banded together, and came up with a stop when the team needed it the most.
The man who anchors the defense — Khalil Mack — put the icing on the cake. A strip-sack and subsequent fumble recovery on Cam Newton sealed the win for the Raiders, as well as their first winning season since 2002.
Mack became the first player since Charles Woodson in 2009 to record a sack, interception, forced fumble, fumble recovery and defensive touchdown in the game.
Carr finished 26 of 38 for 315 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT. It was his ninth comeback victory since 2015, and his fifth in 2016.
Will Carr win the MVP? Only time will tell, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find another player that is truly more valuable to his team than he is to the Raiders.
And if Carr does win the hardware, “The Pinky Game” may be the defining moment of his season.