Derek Carr was rolling, and the Raiders were too. Then Carr was rolling, and the Raiders were hoping and praying.
Carr was sacked midway during the fourth quarter by Colts linebacker Trent Cole, and the quarterback’s right leg spun just a little more than it’s supposed to. Cole fell onto the leg, and Carr immediately signaled for the trainers.
After about five minutes, Carr was helped off the field.
The diagnosis: a broken fibula which will require surgery, an operation that Jack Del Rio said will likely take place on Christmas Day.
It’s a devastating blow for Oakland. The Raiders are without a defined engine, heading into the playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons, and thanks to the third year quarterback who played every game he was available for at Fresno State and as an Oakland Raider.
His toughness is unquestioned. He banged up his pinky real good about a month ago, and came back after missing only one drive. Matt McGloin will take over as the team’s starting quarterback, and when Del Rio was asked if Connor Cook will be the new backup, he muttered:
“Cook will be the backup, correct.”
Head coach Jack Del Rio walked slowly to Carr, with his head down — almost as if he was swallowing defeat while simultaneously strategizing any way he could.
We’ve witnessed serious quarterback injuries this year.
Some speculated, including myself, that Bridgewater’s injury might be more career ending than season ending, the same way that Robert Griffin III’s torn ACL in 2012 has effectively ended his as we knew it.
Worry has been strewn across the face of resurgence, as the Raiders have began unveiling a “Return to Greatness” advertising campaign and the team impressing everyone that is watching.
Carr is out indefinitely, and history shows us that he will miss the trip to the postseason which he authored with brilliant late game comebacks and formidable poise for 60 minutes every week since August.
Carr’s pre-injury competition for MVP
Derek Carr has put forth a season which traditional statistics have trouble quantifying. Late game comebacks, miraculous movement in the pocket, and the ability to throw anywhere, against anyone.
Those are the obvious things that will be looked at when it’s time to cast MVP ballots.
But the traditional stats help to favor a few others.
Matty Ice has the numbers. A quarterback rating of 114.8, nearly 20 points higher than Carr’s, with 32 touchdown passes and over 4,300 yards in his first 14 games. These figures make Carr’s look bogus.
And the most impressive of them all: Ryan has thrown only 465 passes, 64 fewer times than Carr.
One more important element is that the two played each other in Week 2, and Ryan was the one with the late game touchdown pass to win the day. Not Carr.
Of course, though, there are reasons why Ryan has been able to do this, and why Carr or anyone else would have an easier time given the varying situations.
Ryan’s division, the NFC South, is weak defensively. Who can’t move the ball against New Orleans? Ryan gets them twice this year, along with Carolina and Tampa Bay, teams who have been porous defensively.
Atlanta and Oakland have had several common opponents, too, as the NFC South has played AFC West opponents, which makes for six games — 37 percent of the season — where the slate is relatively even.
If the traditional number trump the game situations, which is likely given the sheer number of voters and amount of time each must devote to only one team, Ryan appears to be a shoo-in whether Carr is deserving or not.
Dallas’ fourth round rookie, Prescott, has been showered with national fanfare for awhile now, and why shouldn’t he be? The ultimate American love story, like the film ‘Rudy,’ the guy drafted late steps in for an injured Tony Romo and the Cowboys do nothing but win.
They have others — a defense that has been surprisingly effective, receiver Dez Bryant and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliot makes Prescott’s job a lot easier. Not to mention the best offensive line in the NFL.
With all the support, we’ve seen many others with much higher expectations fail, like Blake Bortles this season, and so Prescott is deserving. He is talented, no doubt, and has the Cowboys in a better spot than they have been in since the 90’s teams with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin.
And that’s almost what Dallas is now, only with different numbers.
Zeke is a beast, and as mentioned above, gets even more support from the group he’s surrounded by. He’s probably more valuable to Dallas than Prescott, and the most dangerous running back playing in the NFL right now.
He’s put forth the most productive season from a rookie since Eric Dickerson, and might finish the season with the rushing title, and the rookie record for rushing yards.
The love affair with running backs has dwindled of late, mostly because the level of talent that we used to see was diminishing. But Elliot is a throwback to the days of Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith, and is the perfect compromise for today’s brand of professional football.
There’s virtually nothing to knock about his game, not the opponents, not the clutch situations, and you certainly can’t blame a guy for having a great group of blockers.
Elliot is as deserving as anyone ever could be.
Briefly, we discuss Brady, Stafford, a few others
Tom Brady missed the first four games of the season and returned to play some of his best football. But in his absence the Patriots went 3-1, and the loss came with Jacoby Brissett under center. Most valuable player? I think the coaches might be more deserving than Brady, even if he’s been nothing short of terrific.
Who would have thought that all the Lions needed to win was the absence of two of their best players in franchise history? Calvin Johnson retired, and Ndamukong Suh departed two years ago via free agency. And now they’re squarely in the hunt for first place in the NFL North.
Stafford has played brilliantly, and it’s tough to find any argument against him, except for his team’s 9-5 record entering Christmas Eve.
Le’Veon Bell, wow. This guy missed the first three games of the year, and is still on pace to eclipse 2,000 yards from scrimmage. Need I say more?
Merry Christmas, DeAndre Washington
In the Raiders’ quest to lock up home field advantage through the playoffs, the rookie running back put together a career performance with two touchdowns in Oakland’s 33-25 win over the Colts.
Washington has been an after-thought in the Raiders’ powerful rushing attack, with Latavius Murray and Jalen Richard taking the majority of snaps. Washington has been inactive in three games this season despite being healthy enough to play, and Saturday’s explosion was a nice reminder for the league that the Silver and Black have a real three-headed monster.
A fifth-round pick of the Raiders this year, Washington was a starter at Texas Tech for his final two seasons, and earned his spot as a first team All Big 12 pick and a trip to the Senior Bowl.
He did little to stand out at the combine, but was drafted because of his reputation as a wrecking ball with spectacular burst in space.
He was the bell cow for Oakland on Christmas Eve.
Raiders playoff picture
As it stands at the final play of Oakland’s win versus Indy, the Raiders would play either the Steelers or the Dolphins after a first-round bye week.
Which could be good for Oakland, since one of their few defensive strengths has been bottling the run, a strength of both potentially opposing offensive units.
Historians, though, are likely rooting for another Steelers at Raiders matchup, a tandem of teams who have the most history together of any group in league history.
Who Pittsburgh is: No longer a defensive threat, the Steelers revel in their offensive prowess, led by Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. They’re electric, difficult to contain and helped by the best offensive line the AFC North has to offer.
Their defense, though, is beatable and lacking in the pass rushing department. Their secondary is no better.
The advantage goes to Oakland, but only slightly. A big play or two could be enough to tilt the scales. Playoff football is a different animal, and a late-day gadget play could turn the game on it’s head. Imagine a flea flicker between Bell and Brown, or a double reverse that frees up Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Oakland has no deep speed threat like Pittsburgh does, and has not shown the ability to dominate with simple-yet-difficult screen passes. All they have is Donald Penn and his four career touchdown receptions.
Who Miami is: A team who fired former head coach Joe Philbin halfway through the 2015 season, electing to hire former Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase as their new man in January of this year.
The offense has been up and down, but their lightening rod has been running back Jay Ajayi, drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 draft despite serious collegiate production — several media reports questioned how structurally healthy his knees were during the draft process.
The Dolphins pass defense ranks 11th in yardage allowed, but their 30th ranked rushing defense emits a serious point of emphasis for Oakland’s dominant offensive line, which could potentially break a game open.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been historically inconsistent, and if the Raiders continue their string of dominance in rushing the passer, the game would likely get ugly in a hurry.
The advantage goes to Oakland, and in a real way. This would be optimal for the Raiders.
Extra points are no longer automatic
There was a though, a suggestion among football analytics gurus, that going for the two point conversion could help a lot of teams score more points. No rushing attack is the same, no passing attack is equal, and defenses carry a great variance even on a weekly basis.
The Raiders might be considering employing that strategy more, though, after kicker Sebastian Janikowski missed consecutive extra point tries during the second quarter on Christmas eve.
The NFL has been trying out a new rule, intended to make the game more interesting, by moving extra point tries from the previous spot of the 2-yard-line to the 17-yard-line.
Only five teams are perfect on “free” tries, and six teams have hit on fewer than 90 percent of tries. Carolina is the median, with 93.8 percent of their extra point tries converting, and the Raiders are now dead last, converting 86 percent, according to stats from ESPN — though there seems to be a disagreement on the official numbers.
Janikowski isn’t the same leg the Raiders drafted in the 2000 draft. But the numbers say he hasn’t lost much.
He’s missed only five field goals from 30-39 yards since 2010, with 53 such attempts during that span, equaling a .905 percent clip — which is slightly better than his career .901 percentage.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Raiders football.