It’s possible that Tony Sparano’s Raiders will fare no better than the team did under former head coach Dennis Allen.
Oakland, after all, lost its 11th straight game while also falling to 0-5 this season, with a 31-28 defeat at the hands of the San Diego Chargers Sunday afternoon at O.co Coliseum. With 11 games remaining, it’s hard to see Oakland as a favorite to win any of the scheduled matchups, including this Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.
Yet though the scoreboard outcome was the same, the way the Raiders played in the first game under Sparano was not.
For the first time this season, the Raiders were playing to win. The energy level was up, as was the physical play of both lines. Running backs had holes to run through and defenders pushed back blockers.
Certainly, in taking over this team, Sparano’s message to his players – to wipe the slate clean and play with enthusiasm – hit home. And nowhere was the change more evident than in the offensive play-calling and the performance of rookie quarterback Derek Carr.
The Raiders took chances, throwing the ball deep. Over his first four games, Carr mostly threw shorter, safer routes. He averaged just 5.7 yards per throw.
But in the first game under Sparano, Carr upped that to 8.3, completing 18-of-34 throws for 282 yards and four touchdowns. Carr went deep early, completing a 77-yard bomb to Andre Holmes to give Oakland a 7-0 lead. He also had a 47-yarder to Brice Butler (though much of that was after the catch), and an18-yarder to James Jones.
Carr didn’t look overmatched. He looked confident, and his arm and accuracy were strong.
During the bye week, after the firing of Allen, the Raiders worked on opening up the offense and being more of an attacking team in the air and on the ground.
“We realized during the bye week that we didn’t have a lot of explosive plays,” center Stefen Wisniewski told Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle. “And that was something we focused on. And it opened up the running game, too, if people are scared of you going deep on them.”
Nowhere was the new attitude more evident than on the Raiders’ last play.
After connecting with Butler for 11 yards and Jones for 9 to get to the San Diego 45, the Raiders were almost within field-goal range for Sebastian Janikowski. A field goal would have tied the game and sent it to overtime.
But instead of going with another short route and a chance at a tie, Carr threw deep for Butler down the sideline, one-on-one with rookie corner Jason Verrett. Both players went up for the ball, with Verrett winning the battle and coming down with it at the San Diego 5 with just over a minute remaining. San Diego then ran out the clock to secure the victory.
But afterward, Carr said it was a play he would try again in that situation.
“Brice had a double move, so we knew he would have a one-on-one and so I pumped it, the safety was not in the play, I wasn’t worried about the safety,” said Carr. “So I was just giving Brice a chance there.”
This time, things didn’t work out. But Carr showed Sunday that in a more wide-open offense, he can be the kind of quarterback who can take over games. Going forward, he and the Raiders seem destined for some better days.
Said Sparano to reporters after the loss: “The kid is a competitive kid. He’s just getting better and better and better. … You can see it today with what he did.”