Derek Carr had an uneven season opener. The Raiders quarterback started hot against the Rams, completing 20-of-24 passes for 199 yards, a first-half tainted only by an underthrown interception in the end zone.
An ice age began in the second half, where Carr lost control. He was 9-for-16 for 104 yards with two unsightly interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.
That invites criticism on the face of the franchise, even though the performance occurred in his first game running a new system, against the star-studded L.A. Rams defense.
He has been asked the questions before, about why more downfield shots aren't taken, why he's throwing so many perceived check-downs, why Amari Cooper isn't targeted more. And, after breaking so many bones (a finger, a fibula and three transverse process fractures) in recent months, whether injury risk runs through the mind during games.
There's little doubt Carr can make every throw. He made several perfect passes against the Rams that led to big strikes.
His decision making, it seems is the biggest topic this week – he made a few head scratchers versus L.A. -- leading into Sunday's game against the host Denver Broncos.
The Raiders tried to exploit matchups with Jared Cook and Jalen Richard, and both guys had big games. But, Jordy Nelson was inconsequential and Amari Cooper was virtually invisible, with one nine-yard catch on three targets.
Carr says he will follow head coach Jon Gruden's game plan, exploit favorable matchups and be better safe than sorry. That's a different tact than his younger days, when he would push the ball to top targets.
Part of that is maturity. Most of it is Carr doing what he's being asked to do.
"It is, and early in my career it's something I would do with ‘Coop' and (former Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree)," Carr said. "Man, they are so good you want to force that pass, even when this matchup over here with Seth (Roberts) is a little bit better.
"I would have some indecisions early on in my career whereas now I'm like, 'guys, I'm making the best decision for our team on that play.' Obviously, I don't do it perfectly every time, and we know that. I'm going to do my best to make the best decisions."
Gruden called plays for Cooper and the ball didn't go to him, and said No. 89 was open at times and wasn't targeted. Gruden also said finding Cooper will remain a point of emphasis.
"You look at the film, we had him wide open deep. We didn't go there," Gruden said. "He was open a couple of times and for whatever reason we didn't go that route. Yeah, we want to get him going. That's easier said than done now."
Carr says he hit Cook on the play where Cooper was open deep and the Raiders got a first down. He wasn't going to second-guess a positive outcome.
"Where is that fine line?" Carr said. "I'm not going to second guess anytime on the line of scrimmage… It's just one of those things, even coach and I talk about. He keeps reminding me, ‘hey did you see it? Yeah, I saw it.' He's like, ‘okay, just as long as you're seeing it we are good.'"
Carr and Gruden are working well together, understanding that there's room for growth as they mesh as play caller and executer. Gruden supported his quarterback following an uneven performance, saying "I don't have any doubts that Derek Carr is going to be great."
He wasn't thrilled with some throws or how the second half process, but understands they remain a work in progress.
"It's just disappointing," Gruden said, "but I think knowing how good Derek is, it gives us hope we can get it all solved."