After Derek Carr led the Raiders to the brink of another victory over the defending Super Bowl champions, Las Vegas coach Jon Gruden described his quarterback as “almost flawless.”
That's almost good enough to beat Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, but not quite.
Carr went 23 of 31 for 275 yards and three touchdowns with a 119.7 passer rating Sunday night, but Mahomes matched Carr's two scoring drives in the fourth quarter with two of his own. Carr and Gruden were left frustrated after Carr played like the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback he is, only to be outdone by a Super Bowl MVP.
“It’s as good as you can play,” Gruden said. “He had four or five balls that were magnificent throws that we could’ve caught that we didn’t make the play on. He played tremendous tonight.”
Before Sunday, Carr was 21-2 in his career when the Raiders scored 30 or more points, a .913 winning percentage that was fifth-best since 2014 among the 17 quarterbacks with 20 or more starts and 30 or more points scored. The Raiders also have won eight games under Carr when trailing by four or more points in the final two minutes of regulation.
Carr nearly hit all those benchmarks again. Las Vegas was in charge when Carr found Jason Witten at the pylon with 1:43 left for his second TD pass of the fourth quarter, putting the Raiders ahead 31-28.
“I thought Derek Carr was in control and command the entire game,” Witten said.
But Las Vegas’ defense couldn’t stop the Chiefs on their 75-yard winning drive. Mahomes found Travis Kelce alone in the end zone with 28 seconds left.
Carr's 31st pass was intercepted by Daniel Sorensen with 19 seconds remaining, sealing the victory for the Chiefs and avenging their home loss to the upstart Raiders last month.
The final interception wasn’t the reason the Raiders fell to 6-4 and dropped to the seventh spot in the AFC playoff picture.
There were eight penalties by Las Vegas. There was a defense that had key personnel that hadn’t practiced all week because nine players were on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and six weren’t activated until Sunday morning.
And there were several dropped balls that Gruden mentioned, but Carr refused to blame anyone.
“I’ve missed a lot of passes in my life, and I try to react the same way I’d want them to react to me,” said Carr, who surpassed 25,000 career yards passing on the Raiders’ first touchdown drive in the first quarter. “If it’s (to) challenge them, challenge them. If it’s (to) pick them up, pick them up. You try to read their demeanor. That’s why you have relationships with the guys, and you understand what makes them click.”
Fact is, they’ve been clicking most of the season. Carr is starting to find the form from his best season in 2016, and he's doing it for the first time under Gruden.
Carr, who passed for a career-high 4,054 yards in 2019, has thrown for 2,431 yards this year and is on pace to have a shot at his third 4,000-yard season in four years with a slight uptick in production over the final six games. But he is also leading a much more diverse offense and taking charge of a young group of players feeding off his emotion.
“His confidence is on another level, and I love that he’s taking chances and taking risks and standing in there and making tough throws,” tight end Darren Waller said.
Now more mature — the “old guy in the group,” as he put it after the loss — Carr knows his place when the team is either pushing the tempo in a shootout, like Sunday against the Chiefs, or in a ground-and-pound struggle like the Raiders endured during a 16-6 win in Cleveland on Nov. 1.
“This is the best offense I’ve ever been a part of,” Carr said. “I say it every week, but we can win in different ways. We can smash them with the run game, or we can do a shootout. We’re proving that over time. ... Today it wasn’t enough.”
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