Expecting the Raiders to take the field in New York on Sunday and be the same team they were the previous couple of weeks was optimistic, to say the least.
While this team may be the most able to roll with the sudden tragic crash in which their teammate Henry Ruggs III killed a young woman in a drunk driving accident, it was a lot to expect them to just shake it all off and play their best football.
Derek Carr in particular had a lot to process. He was able to step up following the sudden resignation of head coach Jon Gruden last month. He stepped up quite well, in fact, helping lead the Raiders to two straight wins. But the loss of his number one receiver in such a grim and heart-wrenching fashion was not going to be as easy to recover from.
I said this week that if any QB is best suited to be able to handle it, it’s Carr. He has handled it as best as can be expected. But he isn’t superhuman. It would have been truly miraculous for him and the Raiders offense to perform with maximum efficiency in this situation.
All things considered, the first quarter the Raiders looked like they could win this one. After the defense gave up an opening drive touchdown, they stiffened up, stopping the Giants on their next three drives. Meanwhile the Raiders offense scored a TD and a field goal to take a 10-7 lead.
“It was a lot of emotional weight on me, but I feel like I came into this game ready to play. Different guys may react individually, but I feel like with the practice that we had this week, I feel like guys were focused on the game and came in with a solid mindset.”
The Raiders carried a 13-10 lead into the half. But there were signs things were not right. On the final play before the field goal, Carr missed a wide-open Darren Waller in the end zone which had them settle for the field goal.
There was still a chance for the Raiders to make score back-to-back as they had the ball to open the third quarter. On that drive, Derek Carr threw a pass in the left flat for Hunter Renfrow. The pass was behind Renfrow, which is very dangerous and Xavier McKinney made him pay. McKinney stepped in front of it and returned it 41 yards for the score.
Down 20-16 with just over five minutes left, the Raiders needed a scoring drive. Instead, they got Carr throwing a pass for Zay Jones in double coverage and having McKinney pick Carr off again.
It was the first time this season Carr has thrown multiple interceptions in a game. But he insisted it was simply a mistake on his part that had nothing to do with his mental or emotional state.
“I thought mentally we were ready,” said Carr. “Myself I was ready to go. I was excited just to play football. And I don’t think emotions or anything were into it. The second interception, Zay ran a double move, I tried to fit it in before the safety got there, he got there. It had nothing to do with emotion, that was a decision I made and it didn’t work out.”
The Giants would get a field goal out of it to take a seven-point lead, which meant the Raiders would have 3:21 to drive for a touchdown.
They would get to the 13-yard-line where Carr held onto the ball a bit too long and Kolton Miller was beaten around the edge to give up the strip-sack on Carr. It was the first sack Miller has surrendered all season and the first fumble the Raiders have lost this season. And it ended the game.
Ruggs was the team’s deep threat. He led the team in receiving and averaged nearly 20 yards per catch. In this game, they had just one deep pass for more than 20 yards. Carr had twice as many interceptions than that.
“You can’t turn the ball over. That’s why we lost the game,” said Carr, who had three turnovers in the game. “We come out and we fight at the end and get a touchdown and, you know, we win the game and we’re talking about different stuff. Not certain emotions and all that kind of stuff.”
The Raiders do deserve some credit for nearly pulling it out despite the situation. But no one who watched that game would say they looked like the same team from a couple of weeks ago. And missing a key aspect to their newly high-powered offense was an obvious problem.
But good luck getting anyone to admit that.
All week the Raiders were touting Zay Jones as the heir apparent to Ruggs. That he was going to fill in admirably. It was clear that was not happening in this game. Jones had four targets that resulted in as many catches for the Giants as for him. But the Raiders were sticking with their assessment of Jones.
“I think Zay is a deep threat and he can take the top off the defense as well,” said Hunter Renfrow. “I feel like we didn’t get too different a coverage than we were expected or anticipating if Henry would have been out there. I think Zay did a great job.”
Jones has had a key catch here and there this season, but he is at best a solid role player who can surprise the defense on occasion. And even if Ruggs isn’t catching a lot of passes, defenses must respect his speed. That isn’t really the case with Jones.
That being said, Ruggs’ absence in the offense wasn’t the only reason the Raiders lost. They had several opportunities to win this one despite the obvious missing dynamic. Six trips to the red zone for the Raiders yielded just 16 points.
Carr dropped back to pass 13 times from the red zone. The first time was a two-yard TD pass to Renfrow. The rest of the way he went four of 11 for ten yards and a fumble. Still, interim head coach Rich Bisaccia didn’t think his quarterback was having an off day.
“I know there are some plays out there he’d love to have back, but I didn’t feel like it was, maybe ‘off’ is the word,” Bisaccia said of Carr. “Certain throws go certain ways. Sometimes they’re a little high or low or a lot of guys make those catches. We just didn’t execute on either end.”
It’s expected that the reason for how things played out can be boiled down to one thing. But, most likely it was a combination of things. Yes, Carr had an off day. Yes, the team had an emotional week. Yes, it affected their preparation. Yes, it probably affected their play a bit as well. Yes, not having the team’s number one receiver and deep threat takes some of the teeth out of the offense. Just another hurdle to overcome.