The team’s record book for 2014 will show a 3-13 record.
What it won’t show is the discovery – finally – of a franchise quarterback.
Since Rich Gannon took the Raiders to the Super Bowl and provided stability and effectiveness for the franchise from 1999 through his last full season in 2002, Oakland has been a revolving door for quarterbacks.
The young (JaMarcus Russell), the old (Kerry Colilins) and the just-plain bad (Matt Flynn) have come and gone while the Raiders have searched for a solid quarterback capable of building around.
Though Oakland won just three games in 2014, it finally struck gold with Derek Carr.
With his rookie season now complete, Carr’s numbers show he had an up-and-down ride through his first 16 professional games. He looked overmatched at times. In some games, he rarely threw the ball deep. Often, he and his teammates got behind early and had no chance of catching up.
Yet without a true No. 1 receiver, without a solid running game for much of the year and without a strong defense and special teams to keep the score close and provide solid field position, Carr kept battling, improving and – eventually – prospering, leading his offense in three late-season victories over teams with winning records.
He started all 16 games, becoming the first Raiders QB since Gannon to do that.
He finished with 21 touchdown passes, putting himself in elite company; the only other rookies to throw more since the 1970s were Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Jim Kelly and Cam Newton. He’s one of just seven rookie QBs ever to throw for 20 or more TDs and 3,000 yards.
He threw for 3,270 yards, completed 58.1 percent of his passes and threw just 12 interceptions. Remarkably, too, he took just 24 sacks, a testament to his ability to move in the pocket, his quick release and his willingness to throw the ball away.
Now, as the Raiders look forward to the draft, they have the No. 4 overall choice, yet don’t have to spend it on a quarterback. They can look to build elsewhere – by selecting a wide receiver, pass rusher or running back – or by trading away the choice for even more picks.
Early in the season, even Carr’s veteran teammates could see he had a special quality.
Left tackle Donald Penn believes Carr is a QB the Raiders can depend on in 2015 and beyond.
“Carr is a natural leader and winner,” Penn told Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle recently. “Maybe not this year as far as the win-loss record, but soon. He has a lot of inner strength and poise and a big-time arm. He’s a natural.”
Carr talked to reporters after Sunday’s season finale, a 47-14 loss to the Broncos in Denver, and noted the uncertainty of the team’s coaching staff. It seems likely that interim head coach Tony Sparano will be leaving, as well as most of his assistants.
But Carr said no matter who the coach turns out to be, he’s going to work hard to make certain the franchise is successful.
“I’m not going to let a season like this happen again as long as I’m the Oakland quarterback,” Carr told the Denver Post. “The first thing, I’ll take a couple of weeks off. Then I’m back to work. I’ll go over the notes I have on the season. I probably have 20 notebooks to go through.”
Recently, Sparano, too, said the Raiders are in great shape with Carr. In 2015, with perhaps a better supporting cast and plenty of knowledge from a long, learning year as a rookie, Carr could take great strides.
“He just has a bunch of great intangibles,” Sparano said recently.
Barring injury, No. 4 should be No. 1 for the Raiders for many seasons to come.