ALAMEDA — “Next man up” is the unofficial corporate slogan of the National Football League. Injuries happen in the ultimate team sport, and when they do, you plug in the backup and snap the ball again as if nothing happened.
Except all of that falls apart when someone like Derek Carr gets hurt.
Before Carr fractured his right fibula while being sacked by Colts linebacker Trent Cole with about 11 minutes to play in a Week 16 game against the Indianapolis Colts, the Raiders had outscored their opponents 410-350 this season. Since the NFL most valuable player candidate left the Oakland Coliseum field in a motorized cart, Oakland has been outscored 35-6, a tally that included Sunday’s morbid 24-6 loss at Denver.
In truth, the Raiders haven’t even been competitive since the injury, a scary proposition with an AFC wild card game looming at Houston this Saturday. Even coach Jack Del Rio admitted Monday that “next man up” has its limits.
“Yeah. A lot of things are easier said than done,” Del Rio acknowledged. “But it’s what you do. That’s what we do. So, you know, if I say that and we go out and play the way we’re capable of and win going away, then maybe ‘Coach knows what he’s talking about.’ So it comes into question today because we didn’t play that well.
“But what you do as a group of men is you come together and everybody does what they’re capable of doing for each other,” Del Rio added, “and you go with great energy and belief and you keep fighting.”
That’s the goal for the Raiders. But the reality hasn’t come close to that. Carr is both the on-field ringleader of the Oakland offense and the driving force behind the team’s confidence. In his absence, the Raiders have looked lifeless. And not just quarterbacks Matt McGloin and Connor Cook. The running game and the defense have gone south, too, giving the impression that the collapse is based on morale more than talent.
Now the Raiders have five days to regain some of their spark and extend a season that, until recently, seemed magical.
Del Rio said that because of the short week, the team will practice Tuesday, normally a day off for the players. That session will be closer to a walk-through than a full padded practice.
When the players get into film study, the coach is convinced, they’ll see that they weren’t all that far away from success at Denver.
“There are too many great examples of us being just a little bit away from it being a whole lot better,” Del Rio said. “I think when you watch the tape the way we do and show our players in the morning, I think they’ll come away with confidence of what it can be.”
The coach said he believed the change had already occurred during Sunday’s game. After being shut out for most of three quarters, the Raiders dented the scoreboard on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Cook to Amari Cooper (followed by a failed 2-point try). And on the very next snap, safety Brynden Trawick intercepted a deep throw by the Broncos’ Trevor Siemian.
“When we generated that turnover right after a score, I thought, ‘Here we go. We’re getting ready to do it again,’ ” Del Rio said Monday. “It just didn’t quite materialize there.”