OAKLAND — The Raiders lined up in victory formation and the quarterback took a knee. The crowd offered a half-hearted smattering of applause, and the curtain came down on perhaps the least-satisfying big win in franchise history.
The Raiders beat the Indianapolis Colts 33-25 at the Coliseum on Saturday, improving to 12-3 and maintaining their No. 2 seed in the AFC, as well as their potential to receive a playoff bye in Round 1 and a home game in Round 2. But they lost, too. Lost big. Quarterback Derek Carr, on the short list for the NFL most valuable player award this year, broke his right fibula with 10:45 remaining in the game and is likely unavailable for the remainder of the season, a crippling blow to a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
An audible moan rippled through the crowd as Carr writhed on the turf, and a hush befell the stadium when he left in the passenger seat of a motorized cart, a towel draped over his head.
“I think we all felt it,” Oakland coach Jack Del Rio said. “I think the stadium felt it. It went from really, really good to kind of a got-the-wind-knocked-out-of-you feel.”
The coach said the fracture will require surgery. The Raiders were going to try to make that happen Sunday, a Christmas task that no one had anticipated or desired.
David J. Chao, M.D., a former NFL team doctor whose Twitter handle is @ProFootballDoc, tweeted that Carr has no chance to return this season. “#MarcusMariota & @derekcarrqb season ends with similar high ankle fracture injuries and surgery. Anticipate near full recovery at 6 months.”
Just like that, the Raiders must regroup behind backup quarterback Matt McGloin, and they must do it quickly. If the Chiefs beat the Broncos on Christmas night, the Raiders will have do the same thing next week when they travel to Denver in order to preserve their AFC West title. Should the Raiders lose behind McGloin, they risk falling into a wild-card position and traveling for the opening round of the postseason.
What makes Carr’s injury so soul-crushing is that before he got hurt, Oakland had put together one of its most complete games of the season.
With Jacksonville upsetting Tennessee in an early game, the Colts were still alive as this one kicked off in Oakland. They had plenty to play for. But they were no match for the Raiders. It was 33-14 at the time of the injury, and Carr had completed 20 of 30 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns.
Both offenses started slowly in a scoreless first quarter. Then each started to move the ball. But while the Colts self-destructed with three turnovers, the Raiders kept rolling, at one point building a lead of 33-7. The running game was impressive, gashing Indianapolis for 210 yards as rookie DeAndre Washington led the way with 99 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 carries.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, the former Stanford star, had moments of excellence. But he threw two ill-advised interceptions in the first half, one of them a pick by safety Reggie Nelson in the end zone. The Raiders converted both of those takeaways into touchdowns.
On the Colts’ initial possession of the third quarter, another Bay Area favorite, running back Frank Gore, lost a fumble that Raiders defensive back T.J. Carrie recovered at the Indy 38. That one, too, resulted in an Oakland touchdown.
It was a party at the Coliseum, until Carr dropped back to pass with about 11 minutes in the game. The coverage was good, and he held onto the ball until outside linebacker Trent Cole came off the right side of the defense to grab Carr around the lower legs. The sack was officially charged to left tackle Donald Penn — his first of the entire season.
Carr twisted his body on his way to the ground, and he seemed to know immediately that something had snapped. He was right.
The Raiders deflated after the injury.
“Sucks to have your captain go down, one of the best players on the team,” wide receiver Andre Holmes said. “But along with that, I think a lot of people went sour that we let the game get close.”
With McGloin at the controls, the offense got conservative and twice punted to the Colts. And the visitors took advantage of the opportunities as the defense went into a stupor. Luck led Indianapolis on a 68-yard drive that took just 2:36 to execute, and added the 2-point conversion on a throw to T.Y. Hilton. The Colts then tacked on an Adam Vinatieri field goal with 2:33 left to cut the score to 33-25.
It was a pass from McGloin to Amari Cooper that saved the win, a leaping catch by the athletic receiver on a third-and-8 play just before the 2-minute warning. After that, the Raiders were able to run out the clock.
Now they must rally behind McGloin, the fourth-year journeyman, as they prepare for a tough trip to Denver, and who-knows-what after that.
Immediately following the game, the Raiders sounded ready to do that.
“He was the starter when I was here, my first year,” Holmes said of McGloin. “He makes plays. You see him in preseason, he goes out there and makes plays. We have full confidence in him.”
Washington called him “one of the hardest workers.” He added: “He’s a perfectionist. He hates making mistakes. … You would never tell he was not the starter, the way he prepares each and every week.”
Mostly, though, the players were thinking about Carr, their talented, upbeat, ultra-confident offensive leader. The quarterback finished his 2016 season with 3,933 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Barring a medical miracle, he won’t have any postseason statistics.
“Most importantly, before anything, we’ve got to be there for Derek,” center Rodney Hudson said. “Make sure he’s mentally right, support him.”
According to Washington, this is what he told Carr: “Whatever the diagnosis may be, man, keep your head up. Just know you got 53 guys on the team that’s gonna fight for you.”