ALAMEDA — The Oakland Raiders’ season was derailed last year as soon as star quarterback Derek Carr went down with a broken leg in the second-to-last game of the regular season.
The Raiders’ ability to survive with E.J. Manuel under center instead of Carr this year will determine whether they will still be in playoff contention after he returns from a back injury that could sideline him between two and six weeks.
One big difference is the Raiders have a more capable backup in Manuel this season after Matt McGloin and Connor Cook were unable to get anything going in a regular-season loss last year at Denver that cost Oakland the division title and then a playoff loss in Houston.
Manuel, a first-round pick by Buffalo in 2013, comes in with more talent and experience than those two and showed signs in the second half of last week’s 16-10 loss at Denver that he might be able to move the offense when the Raiders (2-2) host Baltimore on Sunday in the first of three consecutive home games.
“E.J. is a star in this league,” receiver Cordarrelle Patterson said Tuesday. “He’s played for a long time and got drafted high in the first round for a reason. We all know what E.J. can do. We’re not impressed with the things he did on Sunday. We’ve seen that each and every day in practice. When the time comes, we know he’s ready with all the work he’s put in and the extra time. That’s what quarterbacks do.”
Manuel completed 11 of 17 passes for 106 yards. He led a 73-yard drive for a field goal that ended when Jared Cook couldn’t catch a well-thrown ball in the end zone. He then moved the Raiders across midfield while seeking a late, go-ahead touchdown before throwing a game-sealing interception on a deep shot to Amari Cooper with 1:46 to play.
Now he gets a full week to prepare and practice with the first-team offense.
“He hadn’t thrown a ball to those guys because Derek gets all those reps,” tight end Lee Smith said. “To get a full week of work this week in practice, he’ll be fine. We’re not worried about him. We’re going to have his back.”
The injury to Carr gives Manuel another shot as a starter after failing in Buffalo. Drafted 16th overall out of Florida State, Manuel was the starter in the opener as a rookie for the Bills but played just 10 games because of a knee injury. He won four of his starts, while completing 58.8 percent of his passes for 6.4 yards per attempt with 11 TDs, nine interceptions and a 77.7 passer rating.
Manuel then opened the next season as starter before getting benched after four games by coach Doug Marrone. Manuel then was beaten out for the starting job in 2015 by Tyrod Taylor and made just three starts the past two seasons in Buffalo in place of Taylor.
Manuel left in free agency this offseason, signing with the Raiders in part because of his ties to offensive coordinator Todd Downing, who was his quarterbacks coach in 2014 in Buffalo.
“At the end of the day, this league is all about right time, right place and opportunities,” said Smith, who played with Manuel for two seasons in Buffalo. “For whatever reason it didn’t pan out for E.J. to be the long-term answer at quarterback for the Buffalo Bills. But I’m glad he’s here with us, whatever that reason might have been that’s way above my pay grade. ... I’m glad it didn’t because now that Derek is banged up a little bit, we have a great quarterback to go out with on Sunday. It worked out for the Raiders.”