Derek Carr delivers, but Raiders’ defense falters against Steelers
By Ann Killion November 8, 2015Michael Crabtree takes a Derek Carr pass into the end zone in the fourth quarter that pulled the Raiders Photo: Jared Wickerham, Getty Images
Photo: Jared Wickerham, Getty Images
PITTSBURGH — Derek Carr was just focused on the next play, the next series, the chance to get the game into overtime. So he couldn’t see the big picture.
“My coaches would probably be better at answering that,” Carr said when asked if Sunday represented a step forward in his young career. “I never think about taking a step or anything like that.”
OK then, I’ll answer my question: Yes, Carr took a step forward. The game at Heinz Field was a big moment in the evolution of one of the rising stars of the league.
The step didn’t end in a win because the Raiders couldn’t stop the sublime Antonio Brown. Ever. All day. So the Steelers ended up winning the game 38-35 on a last-second field goal.
Carr had put his team in position to win, on the road against a good team, propelled by a great crowd. He didn’t win on the road at all last season. This season, he has won twice, getting out to big leads in Cleveland and San Diego. But to be great, a quarterback has to be able to rally his team late in a game.
After throwing what appeared to be a back-breaking interception in the end zone, late in the fourth quarter, Carr came back to lead the team down the field, finding Michael Crabtree matched against a linebacker, and throwing for a game-tying touchdown.
The offense then had to watch the Raiders’ defense give up a 79-yard drive to Pittsburgh backup quarterback Landry Jones, including a 57-yard play to Brown.
“I think we let the team down,” Charles Woodson said. “When your offense puts up as many points as they did today, we were the weak link.”
Both defenses were weak links, which made for a wildly entertaining game. Brown set Steelers single-game receiving records with 17 catches for 284 yards. Ben Roethlisberger — who was hurt when Aldon Smith sacked him and rolled over his foot — passed both Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana on the career passing-yardage list in the game, which constitutes a nice day at the office. There was a combined 1,037 yards of offense, 714 of it passing. And the Raiders scored at least 34 points for the third straight week.
“I was expecting the unexpected,” Crabtree said.
That is the new norm for the Raiders. Expect the unexpected. The team is proving to be highly watchable, entertaining and resilient. Though the loss moves them out of the top six playoff spots, and into a tie with Buffalo at 4-4, the Raiders remain very much alive in the playoff picture.
And by the time they face their next division opponent — Kansas City on Dec. 6 — they have a realistic chance of being 7-4. Their next three opponents are Minnesota, which might be without starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who suffered a concussion on Sunday, and then Detroit and Tennessee on the road.
But the Raiders have their own injury concerns. Latavius Murray — who ran for 96 yards before he left the game in the third quarter — was also concussed and will have to go through the concussion protocol. The way Murray has been playing, that would be a big loss.
“We played hard, we played to the end,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “We had a chance at the end there to at least get that thing into overtime and go against a backup quarterback. We had a great opportunity.”
But it was an opportunity squandered.
“Absolutely,” Woodson said. “It’s disheartening to a degree, but we know we can play much better. It’s kind of hard to swallow. We need to find a way to get better in a hurry.”
Carr, who hadn’t thrown an interception since a pick-six against Denver on Oct. 11, made what appeared to be a game-killing error in the fourth quarter. The Raiders had pulled back to within one touchdown and got the ball back when Brown fumbled a punt return (proving that he is a mere mortal in some regards). The Raiders moved closer when the Steelers were flagged for roughing the passer.
But his pass intended for Clive Walford was intercepted by Ross Cockrell in the end zone.
“They gave us a look that we liked,” Carr said. “I tried to throw it in the spot for our guy to make a play. Their guy made the play.”
With a lead, and a backup quarterback in, the Steelers chose to continue attacking the Raiders’ secondary with the pass. They ran just two minutes off the clock before having to punt the ball back to the Raiders.
“We have a great group of guys — this team is a very resilient bunch,” Carr said. “Things started to fall apart, and we just kept fighting.”
The offense got the ball back with 2:15 to play. Carr found Amari Cooper, then Michael Rivera, and then Crabtree. On 1st-and-10 at the Steelers’ 38-yard line, he went deep over the middle to Crabtree, who was covered by linebacker Mike Mitchell.
“That’s all coach (Bill) Musgrave, putting guys in spots,” Carr said.
As the team got ready to head to the bus and leave Pittsburgh, there was a feeling of an opportunity lost.
“I’m sad,” Crabtree said. “That was a tough game. We just came up short.”
But it also represented a step forward.