The sadness in Jack Del Rio’s eyes said it all. As Derek Carr stood on the sidelines awaiting a cart to take him for an x-ray that would confirm the worst, a season-ending broken fibula, devastation rippled from Del Rio, past Oakland and enveloped the entire NFL zeitgeist.
A Raiders 33–25 win over the Colts could not mask the obvious. In Carr, Oakland not only lost its franchise quarterback, but an MVP candidate who gave the team a legitimate shot to win its first Super Bowl since 1984 after securing a postseason berth for the first time since 2002.
The Raiders have a roster of emerging stars—All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack, receiver tandem Amari Cooper and Michael Crabree and offensive tackle Donald Penn to name a few. But no player has symbolized the Raiders’ stark return to relevance like Carr.
The third-year quarterback took a major step forward in 2016 in myriad ways, footwork and accuracy among them. But Carr’s decision-making has stood out. The mistakes have been down, the targets spread out, the reads more layered. Most importantly, he developed into a consistent, reliable centerpiece. What felt like a raw, yet intriguing connection with Cooper last season has progressed into a well-oiled aerial attack sophisticated enough to strategically alter based on opponent. You can never be certain which Raiders wideout will get the most looks, a methodology that has worked out quite nicely in places like New England and Green Bay.
Carr has certainly not been perfect. He had his worst game of the season by a mile in a loss at Kansas City two weeks ago, finishing with just a 49.1 passer rating. But he bounced back with two wins, including a three-touchdown showing against the Colts on Sunday before exiting both the game and season..
Matt McGloin, who will presumably take over for Carr, is one of the more intriguing backups in the NFL. Undrafted in 2013, McGloin was thrust into a starter role as a rookie when then starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor was injured. McGloin impressed in his first start, throwing three touchdowns in a win over Houston (any Raiders win was impressive in those days), but looked more destined for a backup role in subsequent outings. The Raiders agreed or else they might have refrained from drafting Carr in the second round of the draft the following year.
Who knows what’s next? This NFL year is so quirky and filled with twists that McGloin could either go on some unexpected run or the remaining AFC playoff quarterbacks could all befall to injury in Week 17 (there’s only 3–4 regular starters that remain) and the AFC portion of the playoffs would turn into a battle of the backups. But that’s doubtful.
The reality is the Raiders need Derek Carr almost as much as the Patriots need Tom Brady or the Packers need Aaron Rodgers. Perhaps if his injury occurred in Week 7 or even Week 13, Del Rio could have had time to make schematic adjustments, get McGloin enough reps with the first team or hold enough kumbaya sessions to power through the deficit. The timing and nature of Carr’s injury feel like way too much for this young team to overcome. That is why Del Rio’s stunned eyes were filled with tears on Saturday. Unless a miracle happens, the Raiders have little-to-no hope of even sniffing that increasingly elusive Super Bowl trophy. Coach knows it. Everyone knows it. What a sad Christmas Eve for Raider Nation.