Through the season’s first six games, second-year tight end Mychal Rivera had disappeared.
He had just 13 catches for 101 yards – a paltry 7.8-yard average – and zero touchdowns.
Rookie quarterback Derek Carr, with no running game to ease his load and no dynamic wide receivers, was in desperate need of dependable pass catchers, yet Rivera had become an afterthought.
Though he’d caught 38 passes as a rookie, some in the media were wondering if Rivera had already peaked, and that the Raiders would have to address the position again in the offseason.
Yet seven games later, all those doubts have been buried. When the 2-11 Raiders take on the Chiefs in Kansas City this Sunday, Rivera should be a prime target.
In this past Sunday’s 24-13 upset victory over the 49ers, Rivera was a big factor, catching seven passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. It was the first 100-yard receiving day for an Oakland tight end since 2012.
And, since Game No. 7, he’s caught 36 passes for four TDs, bringing his season totals to 48 catches for 464 yards – a 9.7 average – and the four scores.
Suddenly, Rivera has become Carr’s security blanket, finding open seams down the middle of the field and displaying the sure hands he showed as a rookie.
Rivera now ranks No. 2 on the team in receptions (behind James Jones’ 62) and has developed a great rapport with Carr. He has at least six catches in four of the past seven games.
Carr, in fact, said he and Rivera are learning to read one another and be in sync when attacking defenses. Carr told Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle that Rivera freelanced on some routes vs. the 49ers because of coverage – and it was exactly the right thing to do.
“There was one (play) where they covered him and he did a great job for me of stopping,” Carr told Ostler. “He understands the coverage. He understood what the guy was doing. So he knew if he stopped, I could pin it on him and make a play.”
Carr says Rivera does a nice job of “finding the window.”
Carr, Rivera and running back Latavius Murray – all added in the past two years – now seem to be talented players the Raiders can build around for next season on offense.
Wrote Bill Williamson of ESPN.com this week: “If Murray can be a workhorse running back and Rivera can be a top tight end option, it will expedite Carr’s development. They can be core players for the long haul.”