Barber: The day Raiders’ Derek Carr gave up

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This was the day Derek Carr gave up.

He’d never admit it, not aloud or probably even to himself. When I got down to the field with about 1:30 left in the Raiders’ sour 20-6 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, Carr was going down the Oakland sidelines, rallying the offense for one more stab at glory. But it was a hollow act. There was nothing meaningful to accomplish at that point. Because about 3 minutes earlier, Carr had surrendered.

I’m going to spend a lot of time discussing a single snap in that loss, which dropped Jon Gruden’s Raiders to 1-8, so let’s break down the play first.

The Raiders trailed 20-6 with 4:13 play. They faced fourth-and-5 at the Los Angeles 19-yard-line, coming out of a timeout. Obviously, they needed to convert the fourth down, score, then somehow get the ball back and do it again. That’s a lot of needs, but it all started with this play.

The Raiders had three receivers to the right of the formation, one to the left, and halfback Jalen Richard in the backfield. Afterward, everyone corroborated that Richard was the intended target. But as soon as the ball was snapped, Carr’s pocket began to collapse. Blitzing cornerback Michael Davis ran around left tackle Kolton Miller, and edge rusher Melvin Ingram III raced past right tackle Brandon Parker.

Carr started to roll right, and Ingram was immediately in his face. Meanwhile, Richard was having his troubles. “Yeah, I just got hung up,” the halfback said. “That play was supposed to come to me. I was supposed to come across through the O-line, to the other side of the ball. It was gonna be a quick throw to me. Got hung up. Bumped knees with one of their D-linemen.”

With the Chargers’ Isaac Rochell, it looked like.

And here’s the moment that Derek Carr cut a rectangle out of a white sheet, tied it to a stick and waved it in the smoky late-afternoon air of the Oakland Coliseum. The quarterback simply threw the ball into the ground. Thud. Game over.

OK, gents, please form an orderly queue to explain and defend the quarterback’s decision.

Here’s Gruden after the game: “It was a play designed for man-to-man, we were trying to generate a pick for our halfback. Give credit to San Diego (yes, he said “San Diego”; remember, it’s always 1998 for Gruden), they made a great play. We were looking for a big play in that situation, and the Chargers smothered it out. … It looked like Melvin Ingram was beating down on him.”

Here is Richard, generally among the most candid players on this team: “I don’t want to say that he shouldn’t have did it. That’s my boy. He gonna do what he thinks. We just gotta do better to finish games.”

And here is Carr himself: “With the look they gave us, Jalen is the guy. We’ve seen it on film work against them a whole bunch of times. We just didn’t get it.”

Scrambling for the first down seems improbable, considering Ingram’s head of steam. But what about locating a secondary receiver? Isn’t NFL offense all about finding better options? Apparently, there was one option in this case. It was the only play in recent NFL history with five receivers in the pattern and four of them mere decoys.

“There’s literally — it’s Jalen,” Carr said. “The coverage they play and everything, the way we designed it — it’s Jalen. I wish there was something else I could have done.”

That’s odd, because after the football sank halfway into the grass, Seth Roberts — the middle guy among the three receivers to the right — hopped up and down in frustration, about two yards shy of the first-down line. I’m not saying Roberts was open. I’m not saying anyone was open (though it will be interesting to watch the all-22 tape when it’s available). What I’m saying is this: Carr had to throw the ball. Had to. To somebody. Anybody.

Look, I know that each of the men I have quoted here know far more football than I will ever learn. Certainly, they know more about the play in question, as designed. But there are certain fundamental truisms in this sport, and one is this: You don’t ground the ball on fourth down when you desperately need points.

You get rid of the ball. You throw into triple coverage. You whip it 30 feet into the air, hoping it will ricochet into the hands of an eligible receiver. You give your team a chance, however remote.

Instead, Carr conceded.

This is not an assault on the quarterback’s character. I’m not saying this is a habitual fault of Carr’s, or that he should be shunned in the locker room. I’m saying he has lost confidence, despite all of his inspiring words after the game about never giving up. He has lost confidence in his teammates, and his offensive system, and probably his head coach. And he has lost confidence in his ability to deliver.

Carr has been sacked 28 times this season. As reported by the Associated Press, that’s fourth all-time among Raiders quarterbacks through nine games. The Chargers got him on the ground four times Sunday and, according to the official game book, hit him eight times. One of the sacks, in the second quarter, turned into a fumble and 24-yard Chargers return that swung all the momentum in the game.

Carr broke his leg in 2016, and broke a bone in his back in 2017. He has taken a beating this season, behind a makeshift offensive line. Miller and Parker are both rookies. The QB is tired of getting hit. He looks traumatized.

And who does Carr have to throw to? His favorite wide receiver, Amari Cooper, was traded to Dallas as part of Gruden’s purge. Veteran Jordy Nelson has been mostly invisible. Carr’s top wideout lately has been Brandon LaFell, who didn’t have a ball thrown to him until Oct. 28. His only reliable target this year has been tight end Jared Cook.

Oh, and the Raiders’ best running back — carrying the ball and, no small factor, in pass protection — was Marshawn Lynch. He’s on the injured reserve with a groin injury.

Gruden was hired for a lot of reasons, but one of the most important was to rebuild Carr’s confidence. Instead, he has accomplished the opposite. Remember when Carr was a young quarterback and his biggest problem was overconfidence? How he’d make big plays downfield, but also throw risky passes that turned into interceptions? Man, those were the days.

Carr’s favorite play is now the harmless check-down. Fittingly, the Raiders’ final snap Sunday came on third-and-10. It was a pass, and Carr completed it to Roberts — for 9 yards.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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