OAKLAND — When it was all over, after the hometown hero’s ejection and the sideline spat and the four false endings and the fantastic finish, Derek Carr didn’t even want to go there.
The fourth-year quarterback had just led the Oakland Raiders to a dramatic, 31-30 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, thrilling 55,090 fans at the Oakland Coliseum and a Thursday Night Football audience by completing a 10-point fourth-quarter comeback on a two-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree with no time remaining. Yet what if the Raiders (3-4), a trendy preseason Super Bowl pick, had fallen to the AFC West-leading Chiefs (5-2) and suffered their fifth consecutive defeat in the process, with all sorts of accompanying messiness?
“I don’t even want to think about that — golly,” Carr answered as he removed his jersey at his locker, accentuating the last syllable for emphasis like Gomer Pyle back in the day. “You’re gonna make me cry.”
Instead of that hypothetical hellfire, Carr preferred to focus on the reality of a magical evening on which his heroics made the Raiders’ coaches, players and extremely tense fans smile like adolescents on the last day of school. And with good reason: Suddenly, all of Oakland’s recent turmoil, some of it tracing back to the first half of Thursday’s game, faded into the background, as the Raiders savored a victory they believe could signify the first of the rest of their 2017 season.
Or, as Marshawn Lynch told me as he sliced through the Oakland locker room with half of his face covered by a scarf: “S— … we needed that one.”
Lynch, the former Seattle Seahawks star who ended his year-long retirement to play for his hometown team — largely in response to the NFL’s approval of the franchise’s move to Las Vegas for the 2020 season — certainly appreciated the outcome. Having struggled since a strong performance in the Raiders’ season-opening victory over the Tennessee Titans, the powerful running back was used sparingly in the first 21 minutes of Thursday’s game, carrying just twice for nine yards.
Then, following a play for which he wasn’t even on the field, Lynch finally made an impact. After Carr was stopped nine yards short on a third-down quarterback draw, Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters, an Oakland native with whom Lynch has been extremely close since childhood (and to whom he refers as his cousin), came in late and lit up the passer with the $125 million contract who was recently sidelined by a transverse process fracture in his back. That set off a scrum between numerous players on both teams, including Peters.
Lynch — in a reaction which friends, family members and teammates told me was motivated by a desire to remove and shield Peters from the fray — charged onto the field toward the Pro Bowl corner, pushing line judge Julian Mapp out of the way in the process. That earned Lynch an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and an automatic ejection, ultimately creating a startling scene in the Raiders’ family section near the north end zone, where Lynch, carrying a backpack with his face half-concealed by the scarf, watched part of the rest of the game from the stands.
It was an entertaining affair even before the final drive, partly because the Raiders’ offense came out with a purpose. Carr (29 of 52, 417 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions) had his best game of the season, evoking memories of 2016, when he emerged as a bona fide star and led Oakland to seven comeback victories. Wideout Amari Cooper, who’d caught just eight passes for 51 yards and no touchdowns over his previous four games, broke out of his slump in a massive way, with 11 receptions for 210 yards, including a pair of first-quarter touchdowns that went for 38 and 45 yards, respectively.
Embattled offensive coordinator Todd Downing, who was promoted from quarterbacks coach to his current role after coach Jack Del Rio’s surprising decision to part ways with Bill Musgrave following the 2016 season, said he made a point of trying to get Cooper untracked early. Del Rio, meanwhile, apparently hit the right notes in the days leading up to the game.
“I just saw the demeanor in everyone’s face all week, especially Jack’s,” receiver Cordarrelle Patterson said. “It was, ‘We’ve gotta win — or else.’ We got the job done. That’s all I know. This just shows what we really have. You see it. I see it. We can win.”
Beating the Chiefs, who’d stormed out of the gate with five consecutive victories (including a season-opening upset of the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass.) in 2017, wasn’t easy. Though Oakland’s defense was energized by the presence of newly signed middle linebacker NaVorro Bowman (11 tackles, one tackle for loss, one quarterback hurry), the former 49ers star who was released by San Francisco six days earlier, trying to contain red-hot quarterback Alex Smith (25 of 36, 342 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions) and dynamic playmakers Tyreek Hill (six catches, 125 yards, one TD) and Kareem Hunt (18 carries, 87 yards) was a struggle.
After Kansas City took a 30-21 lead on Harrison Butker’s 37-yard field goal with 47 seconds left in the third quarter, it looked like the Chiefs would capture their 13th consecutive victory over AFC West opponents, and their sixth straight win over the Raiders.
But Oakland closed to within six on Giorgio Tavecchio’s 26-yard field goal with 11:56 remaining, and when the Raiders got the ball back at their own 15 with 2:25 to go, Carr had the opportunity he craved. He came up with some huge throws in crucial moments: A 39-yard strike to Cooper on second-and-20; a 13-yard dart over the middle to tight end Jared Cook on fourth-and-11; and, on third-and-10 from the Chiefs’ 29, another pinpoint throw to Cook that carried the falling tight end backward into the end zone near the left pylon.
That set off a wild celebration — until a replay review found that Cook had in fact been down inside the 1-yard line: False Ending No. 1.
No worries: After receiving a shotgun snap with eight seconds to go, Carr threw a fade in the right corner to Crabtree, who separated from Peters and made the catch. It was a redemptive moment for the veteran receiver, who during the second quarter had engaged in a sideline yelling match with left tackle Donald Penn.
“He was telling me not to talk to the refs,” Penn later explained. “I said, ‘I’m good,’ and it continued. We were just both emotional… two guys with tempers. We’re good now. That’s football. We dapped it up after.”
After making his apparent game-winning catch, Crabtree threw the ball in celebration, only to see a flag fall near his feet: He’d been called for offensive pass interference, moving the ball back to the 10-yard-line with three seconds remaining. False Ending No. 2.
Carr took the next snap and threw toward the middle of the end zone for Cook, but the ball bounced off the tight end’s fingertips, causing the Chiefs to celebrate. However, there was another flag: defensive holding on K.C. safety Ron Parker, setting up an untimed down from the 5. False Ending No. 3.
This time, Carr threw to Patterson, who caught the ball just out of the back of the end zone, again apparently dooming the Raiders. Not so fast: Another flag for defensive holding, this time on Chiefs safety Eric Murray. False Ending No. 4.
Finally, after receiving a shotgun snap from the 2, Carr sprinted to his left — in opposition to the team’s prevailing tendency to run the play to the right side, which was something Carr and Downing had conceived on the fly — and knew exactly where he wanted to go.
“He’s got options,” Crabtree said. “But I’m the first read.”
As Crabtree slipped behind the left pylon, just inside of cornerback Terrance Mitchell, Carr zipped him a perfect pass, and the receiver went low to make the catch, setting off another wild celebration.
However, it came perilously close to becoming False Ending No. 5: Tavecchio, who earlier had missed field goals of 53 and 45 yards, barely snuck the tiebreaking extra point inside the right upright.
“That s— was lit out there,” linebacker Bruce Irvin said. “This is the type of thing we can build on. We needed that confidence builder. They had beaten us the last five times. Hopefully, that’s the key win to get the ball back rolling, like we had it last year.”
During his postgame news conference, Carr also spoke of the victory’s potential significance.
“This was a big win for our team,” he said. “Especially with the adversity we’ve been through. The last month, there’s been a lot of adversity. We have not had our best games. To fight through and then to come out on the other side of it… man, I thank god, to be honest. It was hard. It was frustrating.”
And if the Raiders hadn’t come through?
“Two and 5 did not sound good,” he conceded. “That made our stomach hurt. So we wanted to come out here and get a big win.”
Largely because of Carr, the Raiders did — and, as he’d wished, avoided confronting an unpleasant scenario that he and his teammates were thrilled to banish from their brains.
Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @mikesilver.
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