OAKLAND - Derek Carr let it rip, I’ll say that for him.
With the Raiders’ season hanging by a thread Sunday, Carr took sight of the goal line flag in the southwest corner of the Oakland Coliseum and launched himself at it in a full, gravity-defying dive. Problem: He lost the football before he got to the flag. Bigger problem: The ball trickled out of the end zone before anyone touched it, triggering a strange NFL rule that handed possession to the Dallas Cowboys.
That was that. It ended the Raiders’ night with a 20-17 loss. It did not, scientifically speaking, end their 2017 season. There is an infinitesimal chance Oakland will make the AFC playoffs as a wild card, though it involves four or five specific teams, including the Raiders, finishing in a tie for the No. 6 seed at 8-8, plus a particular alignment of Jupiter and Venus.
But this was another shovelful of dirt on the Raiders’ season, and it was a weird one. It involved, for example, a critical first-down measurement that referee Gene Steratore made with the aid of a folded piece of paper. What did Steratore use? A page from the NFL rulebook? A Christmas list that Mrs. Steratore sent to the Bay Area with him? A promissory note from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones?
And the game was ultimately decided by Carr’s unfortunate dive to the corner of the end zone.
You can see why the quarterback did what he did. Earlier in the game he had taken off for a 32-yard run, the Raiders’ longest play from scrimmage (excluding penalties) on Sunday. And the guy is trained to be a hero. When he scrambled out of the pocket and took off on that third-down run with about 35 seconds left, every ounce of his fiber was telling him to score.
“I’m super competitive,” Carr said after the game. “You guys, my teammates, my brothers — ask my kids, my wife. I try not to lose at anything. I had an opportunity to try and win the football game. … In that moment, I was just trying to win for my teammates.”
But if you can freeze time and examine the circumstances, Carr made the wrong play.
The fumble-out-of-the-end-zone rule doesn’t make a ton of sense, but it has been invoked on numerous occasions. Every NFL quarterback should know it. Anyway, discretion would have been the better part of valor in this case.
If Carr had simply run out of bounds, the Raiders would have had a first down at the Dallas 2, with 31 seconds left to score that winning touchdown. And if they weren’t successful in that, they could have settled for a short field goal by Giorgio Tavecchio to send the game to overtime.
Carr behaved recklessly. Strangely, that’s what everybody seemed to want him to do.
For much of this season, the Raiders quarterback has played tentatively. He has gotten rid of the ball quickly — often, more quickly than he needed to — giving the impression that he didn’t have full confidence in his offensive line. He has completed few deep passes, relying instead on the dinks and dunks that become infuriating when the team is losing.
And the Raiders offense has followed in his mincing footsteps. There have been flashes of the excitement that defined 2016, when Oakland finished 12-4, but they have been all too rare.