Lately, no quarterback in the NFL has led more game-winning drives than Raiders’ quarterback Derek Carr. He has six such drives since the 2015 season began, with four last year and two already this year – just four games in. That means half of the games this season have been wins because Carr drove down near the end zone and punched it in for the score.
Obviously, the most dramatic one was against the Saints, when they decided to go for two and the win, rather than tying it up and playing for overtime.
It’s often said that quarterbacks are judged by what they do on third down and in the last two minutes of the game. These are the most crucial moments. When you need your quarterback to step up and earn his money, to be at his very best, that’s when you find out what he’s made of.
What the Raiders have found is that Carr absolutely elevates his game and refuses to lose. With everything on the line, this is the guy you want with the ball in his hands. He’s done this more in the last season or so than Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and any other top-end passer you want to name.
Of course, not all of that comes back to the quarterback. Carr has better weapons in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree than what Wilson has in Seattle or what Rodgers had in Green Bay last year, with Jordy Nelson out.
Some of it is also the setup. The Raiders have struggled mightily on defense, even with all of the changes made this year, meaning that they’re giving up a lot more points than they should be. Wilson doesn’t need as many game-winning drives if his defense causes him to rarely falls behind. Carr has to win like this because the Raiders are so often trailing in the fourth.
It’s also fair to note that it’s a small sample size, but the point here isn’t to say that Carr is better than Rodgers or Wilson or Luck or anyone else – even though he’s looked like it this year. The point is simply to show how well he’s progressed. This is just his third year in the NFL, and he’s already setting streaks like that through his second and third seasons.
This is a guy who is still learning and developing, who is still getting better. We already know what Rodgers is going to be; he’s not improving at this point. We haven’t yet seen Carr’s ceiling. We don’t know what he’s going to be. We just know the way he’s progressing, and it looks very good.
There are negative takeaways from this idea, naturally. It means they’ll struggle if they come up against tough defenses like the Vikings and the Broncos, because those defenses make it far harder to score late than a defense like the Saints, which is near the bottom of the league. It means that the team is still utterly dependent on Carr to get wins; that’s problematic because teams that are good enough to focus on removing him from the game won’t have many other threats to deal with. It makes the Raiders look a bit one-dimensional, especially late in games.
But this is hugely positive too because this is still a team that is being built up. They’re still getting better. What they really needed to find out this year was if their franchise quarterback was really a franchise quarterback. The third year is often the one where you really learn what your quarterback is and whether or not you should build around him.
For the Raiders, with this impressive streak, the answer is a resounding yes. Carr is the real deal, especially when the game is on the line and he alone can win it. That’s when he’s the best quarterback in the league, and that’s a guy you want to build around for a decade.