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Raiders vs. Browns


Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr celebrates after the Raiders defeated the Cleveland Browns 16-6 in an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

If everything goes according to plan for the Raiders, they’ll get star running back Josh Jacobs and mountainous right tackle Trent Brown back for the season’s final four games, giving the Las Vegas offense a big boost as they jostle for playoff positioning. And safety Johnathan Abram and linebacker Cory Littleton are set to return any day now to bolster the defense down the stretch. That’s four potential difference-makers coming to the rescue just in the nick of time.

And wouldn’t that be great? It’s a fine holiday wish, but considering Jacobs has underperformed when on the field this year (3.8 yards per carry) and Brown has missed 10 of 12 games to this point, and the defense ranks as one of the league’s worst with or without Abram and Littleton (No. 28 in points per game allowed), it might be more realistic to temper expectations.

If you’re a believer in past performance being the best predictor of future performance, it’s more likely that it will be up to Derek Carr to carry the Raiders across the finish line and into the playoffs.

For all the offseason talk about high-profile free-agent signings and impact draft picks and offensive weapons, Las Vegas is in the position it’s in — controlling its own playoff destiny with a 7-5 record — because of Carr.

He hasn’t been perfect in his seventh season, but Carr’s command of the passing game is what has gotten the Raiders this far. Through 12 games, Carr has completed 68.1 percent of his passes for 3,027 yards and 22 touchdowns, with just five interceptions to his name. His passer rating of 104.1 ranks him eighth in the league.

Head coach Jon Gruden praised Carr for getting the most out of the roster on a week-to-week basis.

“He’s a key to our team, we need him to be great down the stretch and I promise Raiders fans he’s giving us the best he can,” Gruden said. “We still need him to play better and better and better for us to get into the tournament, he knows that. But I’m really impressed with the way he’s been able to roll with the punches. We’ve had five different right tackles, we’ve had three different left tackles, a number of different guards and wide receivers, and he’s had to put up with me and that’s, I’m sure, not easy either.”

This was the year that Carr was supposed to have a quality team around him, with an improved defense and more skill players combining to take some of the pressure off the passing game. Instead, Las Vegas has actually been worse on defense this season (28.9 points per game allowed) than it was in 2019 (26.2) and the running game is slightly less effective (4.3 yards per carry in 2019, down to 4.2 in 2020). Touted rookie receivers Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards have contributed just 527 yards and two touchdowns combined.

For the season, the Raiders have actually been outscored by their opposition, 347-323. The difference between being a below-.500 team and a squad that is still fighting for the playoffs has been Carr, and his performance in close games in particular.

The Raiders are 4-2 in games decided by one possession, and in those contests Carr has passed for 1,718 yards with 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. He led a game-winning drive to beat Carolina in Week 1 and tossed a last-second touchdown to Ruggs to beat the Jets last week (a game New York lost on purpose, but still, give Carr and Ruggs credit for executing the play). Reverse those outcomes and Las Vegas’ postseason hopes would be on life support.

Carr’s lowest passer rating in any one-possession game was his 97.9 mark against the Jets last week.

“I’m really impressed with how he plays, how he studies and how he prepares,” Gruden said. “Sometimes the biggest, pressure-packed moments bring out the best in him.”

Carr has led the Raiders to the postseason once before, in 2016, when he broke his leg late in the season and was unable to suit up for the wild card loss to Houston. But the Raiders ran out to a 10-2 start that year and did not have to fight for their playoff lives; this time around, Carr will probably have to come through and win more close games down the stretch in order to make his postseason debut.

When asked about being in control of his playoff destiny, Carr said he’s trying to narrow his focus to this week’s game against an Indianapolis team that is in direct competition for the AFC’s final wild card spot.

“It’s been a long wait for me,” Carr said. “I would love nothing more than to be able to do that, but if we don’t win [against Indianapolis], it doesn’t mean anything. We have our work cut out for us against one of the best teams in the NFL. They’ve had some close losses and we’ve had some close games. But when you turn that tape on, it just jumps out to you how good they are. We got to bring it, we got to be ready to play because if not, they’ll come and run us out of our own stadium. As much as I’d love to get ahead and think about those things, it doesn’t matter if we don’t take care of business.”

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at

Article written by #LasVegasSun