Updated November 26, 2021 - 9:20 am
Jon Gruden used to remind quarterback Derek Carr all the time: Don’t take your arm out of the game. When the opportunity arises, let it rip.
Carr followed such advice Thursday. In the process, he led the Raiders to their most important win of the season. Just in time is right.
The game that would never end eventually did, nearly four hours after the opening kickoff, with the Raiders incredibly thankful for Daniel Carlson’s 29-yard field goal with 4:28 left in overtime.
It allowed them to beat Dallas 36-33 at AT&T Stadium and stop a three-game losing streak that seemed destined to continue another midseason slide out of any playoff picture.
“It’s easy to win games and go to the next week,” Carr said. “But it’s hard when you lose and nobody likes you or cares about you or texts you before the game. So you battle through it.
“We were up against a wall, no doubt.”
When has 6-5 ever felt so good? When you’re the Raiders, right now.
Turkey day victory
They won on Thanksgiving Day for the first time since 1968 and — considering how poorly things have been on the field and controversial off it lately — this one must have felt like helpings of ham, turkey and prime rib all in the same sitting.
Question: When you consider how much the offense struggled throughout the losing streak, how out of sorts Carr appeared at times, had the resignation of Gruden as head coach led to such a regression?
Answer: It had to.
Carr in consecutive losses to Kansas City and Cincinnati threw for an average of just 238 yards with three scores and two interceptions. He also had two interceptions in a loss to the Giants.
He and offensive coordinator Greg Olson hardly seemed on the same page as a 5-2 record became 5-5.
The rhythm was lacking, the execution nonexistent for stretches. The Raiders were abysmal on third down (they were a not-so-great 3-for-13 Thursday) and nearly as forgettable in the red zone.
So when you consider the vast number of words written and talked about regarding Gruden and Carr the past several years, believing the partnership ending had no negative consequence is foolish. They’re human beings. Of course it did to some degree.
“Certainly, (Carr and Gruden) had a wonderful relationship,” interim coach Rich Bisaccia said, “But I think (Olson) has always been the buffer between Jon calling plays and then what’s going on now. We’ve hit some bumps in the road, but I think they’ve really done a good job over the past few years of overcoming the bumps in the road and then playing well again.”
Which brings us to Thursday.
Carr would complete 24 of 39 attempts for 373 yards and a score, good for a quarterback rating of 101.8. But perhaps just as important was running back Josh Jacobs rushing 22 times for 87 yards and a score.
Run games are overrated until they actually make a difference. This one did in allowing a player like wide receiver Hunter Renfrow to secure career highs in receptions (8) and yards (134).
‘The point guard’
Carr let it rip more than once, including on a crossing pattern to newly acquired receiver DeSean Jackson that went for a 56-yard score.
There was Carr over nearly four hours — not taking his arm out of the game. Just as Gruden always told him.
“Derek is his biggest critic,” Bisaccia said. “He wants to do well all the time — in practice, in the meetings, in games. Again, he has been out of sync some. We have all been out of sync. When it’s bad, it’s easy to point the finger at one guy.
“He’s the trigger guy. Plays probably the hardest position in all of sports. Today, he was Derek Carr. The point guard. Really fun to watch.”
Just in time, too.
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.