OAKLAND, Calif. — Last season, Derek Carr did as Jon Gruden’s offense told him.
This year, the veteran quarterback is discovering things for himself, a major reason why the Raiders beat the Chargers 26-24 on Thursday night at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
It seems like both yesterday and forever that Carr looked more lost than a freshman wandering the halls on the first day of high school as he attempted to understand and execute Gruden’s preference for doing things early in the 2018 season.
The quarterback would struggle over those first few weeks of a season that ended with a 4-12 record, and many rightly wondered if Carr would ultimately prove to be Gruden’s long-term choice at the position as the team continued toward its move to Las Vegas in 2020.
Carr was actually much better overall than both the team’s performance and outside opinion of his game last year, and yet it has taken the last month for most to realize how firmly he has grasped all that encapsulates The Gruden Way.
“We have such a high degree of trust in (Carr) right now,” offensive lineman Richie Incognito said. “He really has Gruden’s offense down. Derek never changes. Always poised. He’s in total command.”
Carr certainly was for two game-winning drives the past five days, first directing the Raiders to a victory against Detroit on Sunday and then doing it again Thursday night against their AFC West rival Chargers.
It means the Raiders are 5-4 and staring at more-than-winnable games awaiting, with the winless Bengals and the one-win Jets on deck over the next two weeks.
It means Gruden’s team is likely going to have to pull off a major face-plant not to be squarely in the playoff race through the regular season.
The Raiders are 5-1 in games decided by one possession this season, more proof that Carr and Gruden are on the same page when it comes to critical late-game decisions.
They were Thursday, when the Raiders went 75 yards in 10 plays over three minutes to overcome a four-point deficit and take the lead for good.
“It really gives you confidence as a team, right?” Carr said. “Now, with all the young guys we have, I just look at them and say, ‘Let’s go.’
“Man, this was an old-school AFC bloodbath. We just found a way to win.”
It was impressive, especially this way: The Raiders to this point had won by running the ball, protecting the ball, keeping Carr upright and living with a controlled, conservative passing game.
Most all of that was tough to come by Thursday.
The Chargers and their potent pass rush spend most weeks disrupting everything an offense attempts, which was the case here. They sacked Carr three times, hit him five other times and limited the Raiders to just 78 yards rushing.
There wasn’t much flow to anything Carr tried most of the evening, a product of the Chargers’ ability on defense more than anything else.
Until, yet again, that final drive.
‘Showed great poise’
He would complete passes of 11, 10, 13 and 9 yards over it, the final play an 18-yard scoring run by rookie Josh Jacobs with 1:06 remaining.
Carr also led a scoring drive — 66 yards in 10 plays — to end the first half and earn the Raiders a 17-14 leads at intermission.
A really critical score.
His final numbers, 21-of-31 for 218 yards and a touchdown for a rating of 98.6, were more about grinding things out and earning every movement of the chains than a spotless outing.
“(Carr) showed great poise, especially in the two-minute drive at the end,” Gruden said. “He used a lot of receivers. It was a good effort by a lot of guys. That’s a good defense we were going against. You really become impressed with the fact we were able to take the ball the length of the field to win a game.”
Carr is in his sixth season and yet most had him buried last year in regard to his future with Gruden, despite the quarterback’s solid numbers over 16 games.
Funny. It seems as if all those shovels have been put back in the garage.
He hasn’t been just good through nine games.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.