OAKLAND – Derek Carr's a sucker for Raiders fans seeking autographs. The Silver and Black quarterback will stop and chat pre-game signing everything from everyone until the Sharpie runs out.
Not on Monday night.
He never stopped moving toward the Oakland Coliseum tunnel, diverting focus only to throw a wristband toward the crowd and make sure the intended kid got it.
After that, it was right back to business. Carr brought his game face in from the parking lot, showing straight focus and determination from beginning to end as he led the Raiders to a 24-16 victory over the Denver Broncos.
It was a masterful performance conducted right on the edge, balancing intensity with focus to keep his passion from turning white-hot.
Those trapped in the moment will say Carr was anger-fueled, upset by Antonio Brown's departure for New England. The superstar receiver took up so much bandwidth all spring and summer, with so much dramatic flare that he remained the primary focus surrounding a team he no longer represents.
Thinking Carr's motivation comes from Brown is incredibly shortsighted. It's about an offseason's worth of criticism from talking heads questioning his toughness and desire. It's about those believing the Raiders should draft a quarterback high, and abandon their homegrown talent with years left on his contract.
It's about evolving in his second year under head coach Jon Gruden, someone he works with well despite thoughts they pair like oil and water. It's about asserting himself, quieting the people pleaser inside while letting the confident field general speak out.
"He played great tonight," Gruden said. "I don't know what the stats are, but he did a lot more for our team than complete a lot of passes. He made some great audibles to protect the ball. He was inspiring, leading the team on the sideline, and I thought he was really good."
Carr's stats weren't half bad. He completed 22-of-26 passing for 259 yards and a score. That breaks down to 10 yards per attempt. That's, you know, pretty good.
"We saw him complete 78 percent last year in some really, really tough situations," Gruden said. "We think his potential is really off the charts. We just got to do a good job of coaching and got to try and surround him with a lot of good players and coach him. He'll be fine."
Carr won't hand himself gold stars after a job well done. He'll critique what went wrong as he continues to refine his game.
"I'm going to watch my footwork. I'm going to watch my eyes. I'm not into how many passes I completed, I'm into the ones I did miss," Carr said. "Why did I miss them? And how can I do that better? That's what, out of the 80 or 90 percent, what's the 10 or 20 percent that I missed on? Tell me that, and I'll get better. That's what I'm into.
"That's why I love our coaches, because they'll get on me for those things."
Carr said during training camp that he was quarterbacking at his highest level, building off a strong 2018 season with several superlatives but few wins to show for it. He'll keep critiquing and improving, demanding more from those around him as he has all summer.
He's even suggesting plays to Gruden, calling them himself a few times late when his helmet radio went out.
"Derek was outstanding, definitely in command," tight end Darren Waller said. "He was putting throws on the money. He had that calm presence in the huddle, checking things at the line. Derek was Derek tonight in my opinion."
Derek Carr was himself on the field Monday night, but an updated version that is fiery, relentless and in complete control.