Ever since the final gun sounded on their blowout Super Bowl loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers thirteen years ago, the Oakland Raiders have been the laughing stock of the NFL: Their anointed savior left the league in disgrace, one questionable draft and free agency acquisition seemed to follow after another, and its coaching hires have become synonymous with mediocrity. The Raiders have not made the postseason since, and they have lost a staggering 142 out of their last 208 games.
Although the jury has yet to render a verdict on whether the Raiders have fully emerged from the brink or not, it is clear that they have shown immeasurable progress over the last two years. The Raiders currently sit third in the AFC West with an unspectacular yet respectable 5-6 record, and the emergence of second-year quarterback Derek Carr could be the key to not only their long-term recovery but their immediate postseason hopes.
Through eleven weeks of play, Carr has defied NFL odds and completed an incredible 240 out of 378 passes for 2,895 yards and 24 touchdowns. He has turned the ball over only eight times, and his stellar 101.5 quarterback rating has made him an appealing choice for fantasy owners. His recent performance was a 330-yard dissection of the Tennessee Titans, whom the Raiders defeated last Sunday thereby snapping a three-game losing streak.
Although the Raiders won by only three points, Carr made it clear that he is concerned only with the results.
“We finished with a win,” Carr told ESPN. “So for us, that’s how we look at it. To have to go down and make plays and our receivers and everybody making plays in that kind of weather, we looked at it as just a positive.”
Carr, whom the Raiders selected with the 36th pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, did not turn the ball over once in that game despite snowy conditions. His poise and fourth-quarter heroics have earned praise from observers around the league.
“No quarterback has surprised me more than Derek Carr,” panelist Gregg Rosenthal said during his weekly appearance on the NFL Network. “Last year, he was a dink-and-dunk master. This year, he’s going down the field more often, and he’s not making any major mistakes.”
“I’ve really been impressed with his maturity. You just don’t see him making many mental mistakes,” added Rosenthal.
Carr’s favorite target has been first-year sensation Amari Cooper, the University of Alabama standout who was the Oakland Raiders’ first selection last April. Cooper is no stranger to playing in a high-octane vertical attack; after setting all kinds of records with the Rolling Tide, the freshman receiver has caught 58 passes, four touchdowns, and 851 yards, which is the most for any rookie in Raiders’ history. After hauling in seven receptions for 115 yards against in the same game against the Titans, Cooper was named the NFL’s Rookie of the Week. Along with veteran Michael Crabtree, Cooper and Carr have led one of the NFL’s most underrated passing attacks.
Cooper’s production has not gone unnoticed by his coaches, who are looking for more opportunities to get the ball in his hands.
“I think he’s gonna have a lot of good games,” Jack Del Rio told the SBNation’s Silver and Black Pride. “He’s a good football player and he’s going to have a lot of really good days like that.”
Cooper is on track to reach 1,238 yards by the end of the season — and in doing so, he would be the first Raiders receiver to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark since Randy Moss did it over ten years ago. The Raiders hope that translates into more victories, and perhaps a shot at a fabled playoff berth.
If Carr and Cooper continue to progress, they could very well lead the rejuvenation of the proud but downtrodden Raider franchise. Although recent history has not been kind to Oakland, it is clear that they have come a long way from Tampa Bay.
Phil Oscarson is a sports writer and betting odds analyst with over 10 years experience in the sports betting industry. When not writing about sports, he loves to play golf, basketball and tennis.