DENVER — The great ones bounce back.
Derek Carr aspires to be great and the Raiders would expect him to be great, based on the five-year, $125 million contract extension he received. Carr would also be the first to tell you that moment has not arrived.
A rebound game on the road Sunday (1:25 p.m., PST) against the Denver Broncos can get Carr closer to his goal in a battle of 2-1 teams in the AFC West.
In a 27-10 loss to Washington, Carr was out of rhythm, out of sorts and the Raiders were out of luck. His quarterback rating of 52.7 (19 of 31, 118 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions) was the second-lowest of his career ahead of only a 50.5 mark in his rookie year of 2014 and a 52-0 loss to the St. Louis Rams.
The following week, in a home win over the 49ers, Carr was 22 of 28 for 254 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 24-13 win. His rating of 140.2 that day remains the highest of his career.
Things figure to be tougher in Denver, a place where Carr struggled in starts in 2014 and 2015. In 25 possessions in those games, the Raiders punted 19 times, produced three touchdowns, turned it over twice and missed a field goal. Carr missed last season’s road finale in Denver with a broken right fibula.
To his credit, in the 2015 game in which Khalil Mack sacked Brock Osweiler five times in the second half, Carr threw touchdown passes to Seth Roberts and Mychal Rivera to rally the Raiders from a 12-0 deficit to a 15-12 win.
Carr will need to pick his spots against a stout Denver defense and heed the advice of offensive coordinator Todd Downing, who is fond of telling his quarterback, “You be efficient. I’ll be aggressive.”
Sometimes Carr’s play-making ambition gets the best of him. He’ll force one to a receiver instead of taking the best option as dictated by the offense. It happened on his first pass attempt against Washington to Amari Cooper and again later with Roberts as the target. Both passes were intercepted.
“I don’t need to make every play,” Carr said. “I always put it on my shoulders. I just have to know I have to rely on my teammates. I don’t have to do it all.”
Carr isn’t the first quarterback climbing the ladder of his profession to get sidetracked. While passer rating isn’t the be-all and end-all in judging quarterback play, it’s a fair indicator of efficiency in that the key components are yards per attempt, completion percentage and touchdown pass-to-interception ratio.
Tom Brady had a 22.8 rating in his Year 4 opener and lost 31-0 to Buffalo. Peyton Manning checked in with a 35.0 in his fourth season and lost 41-6 to Miami. In their next games, both victories, Brady improved to 105.8 and Manning jumped to 112.2.
A quick glance at eight other quarterbacks either in the Hall of Fame or those who would be considered Hall candidates — Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Matt Ryan, John Elway and Ben Roethlisberger –showed instances of laying Year 4 eggs in defeat similar to the one Carr left behind in Washington.
The average improvement in terms of passer rating for the 10 quarterbacks the following week was a whopping 52.7 points. Most important, those 10 losses were followed by wins nine times.
For Carr to have a similar rebound against Denver wouldn’t surprise Downing.
“You know how prideful of a worker he is,” Downing said. “He’s worked really hard this week to clean up some things and do his part. That’s permeated our whole offense.”
What to watch for in Week 4:
1. Punching back: Coming off a low point for the offensive line, the Raiders, as left Donald Penn said, “want to get the bad taste out of their mouths.” Look for left guard Kelechi Osemele, in particular, to be breathing fire.
2. Crab or no Crab?: Michael Crabtree missed practice Friday and was listed as questionable. He has a chest injury after taking a ferocious hit against Washington. The last time Crabtree played in Denver, cornerback Aqib Talib literally yanked his chain, angering the wide receiver. If Crabtree can’t play, it hurts. When going to Crabtree, Carr is 13 of 16 for 170 yards and three touchdowns for a passer rating of 150.3.
3. Watson vs. Mack: Former Raiders second-round draft pick Menelik Watson is the Broncos’ starting right tackle, the side which is usually faced with Khalil Mack. Watson, when last see in a Raiders uniform, was getting taken apart by Jadaveon Clowney in the playoffs. Even with Watson getting help, this seems like a favorable situation for the Raiders.
4. Attacking the seams: With Talib and Chris Harris Jr. on the outside and Bradley Roby in the slot, Denver may have the best threesome of corners in the league. Carr may look to find open areas in the middle against inside linebackers Todd Davis and Brandon Marshall with backs such as Marshawn Lynch, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington and tight end Jared Cook.
5. Soaring over Denver: Marquette King’s booming punts have resulted in muffed punts with Raiders recoveries in the last two games. Rookie return specialist Isaiah McKenzie takes his shot in the mile high altitude. Whether it’s a fumble recovery on special teams or a defensive takeaway, it would behoove the Raiders to win the turnover battle.
Derek Carr isn’t the first star quarterback to have have a bad game. A look at how some notable NFL quarterbacks in their fourth year in the NFL had games similar to what Carr experienced in Washington:
Date/Score/Player pa-pc-td-int-qb rating
9/7/2003/BILLS 31, Patriots 0/Tom Brady 28-14-123-0-4-22.5
11/9/1986/Chargers 9, BRONCOS 3/John Elway 31-13-196-0-3-23.8
12/10/2001/DOLPHINS 41, Colts 6/Peyton Manning 32-19-173-0-3-35.0
9/25/2017/WASHINGTON 27, Raiders 10/Derek Carr 31-19-118-1-2-52.9
10/05/1986/PATRIOTS 34, Dolphins 7/Dan Marino 23-13-167-1-3-54.3
10/9/2011/Packers 25, FALCONS 14/Matt Ryan 32-18-167-1-2-55.1
9/28/2008/BUCS 31, Packers 20/Aaron Rodgers 27-14-165-2-3-55.9
9/26/2004/BRONCOS 23, Chargers 13/Drew Brees 29-14-121-0-0-59.7
9/18/1981/EAGLES 13, Packers 7/Brett Favre 45-24-280-1-2-61.3
12/19/1983/Falcons 17, 49ERS 7/Joe Montana 31-16-171-1-2-66.2
9/30/2009/CARDINALS 21, Steelers 14/Ben Roethlisberger 32-17-242-2-2-72.9
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