Derek Carr has been praying about leading the Raiders in the playoffs since he was drafted in 2014, and those prayers seemed to be answered in 2016 when his team steamrolled to a 12-3 record the first 16 weeks of that playoff-clinching season.
The problem for Carr was that in the fourth quarter of that fateful 15th game, a win over the Indianapolis Colts, he fractured his right fibula.
So while his team did indeed continue on to the postseason, Carr could not play.
And, not surprisingly, the Raiders lost to Houston in the Wild Card Round. The team that had waited since 2002 to get in the playoffs exited immediately, mostly because the starting quarterback was a spectator rather than a participant.
Well, welcome back to the playoffs, Raider Nation.
Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) works in the pocket against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) ((AP Photo/John Bazemore))
Welcome to the playoffs for the first time, Derek Carr.
“Yeah, it’s nice,” Carr told reporters Tuesday. “But don’t forget we’ve already done it. This is the second time. I just get to play this time.
“I think, for me, it’s an exciting time. Obviously, it’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was drafted. That’s all I’ve wanted to do is get to the playoffs and try and win a championship. And the fact that we’re in the tournament, it’s really cool…
“I’m super thankful. I’ve worked my tail off. I’ve prayed that I could experience that one day, and I get to. It’s cool.”
It’s cool. But Carr is hoping it can be more than that with a win at the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday. Otherwise, not quite so cool.
“My goal wasn’t just to make the playoffs. It was a part of it,” Carr said. “But you always have bigger goals and bigger dreams and you’re always trying to achieve more. So, for me, it’s exciting, but still trying to keep that laser focus on the job at hand.”
That focus has been trained on this moment for, well, years — ever since that injury in 2016 and through four ensuing seasons that didn’t include a playoff berth.
Carr reflected on all that quite publicly Tuesday.
“I definitely feel like a better player, especially the last couple of years because I’m able to play different ways, different styles in order to win a football game,” Carr said comparing himself today to 2016.
“I’ve had some more kids since that time too, so things have changed in my life a lot since all that. And so, to be able to play in the playoffs this time and all my kids, they’ll get to go and experience it. I don’t think I’d have it any other way to share that moment with them.
“But for me, as a player, I feel like I’m a better player than I was then. I was young and doing a lot of crazy things that were actually working out and didn’t always work out. But I just feel like a much more wise, smarter player now than I was then. And I feel more equipped and ready now even than back then. It’s an exciting time for sure.”
Carr can talk about the excitement of getting in now but on Sunday night when the Raiders were locked in an overtime battle with the Los Angeles Chargers, the excitement was all over but not necessarily for the players.
The fourth quarter and overtime of that game were heart stopping. The pressure was palpable. And in those moments, Carr could feel the playoffs alternately within his grasp and then out of his reach.
It was as if the postseason was being snatched from him again.
Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) warms up before an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
So he came onto the field even when the Raiders defense was out there to implore teammates Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue to give it all they had and perhaps more than they had.
All for a trip to the playoffs.
“Oh yeah, we went out there and I was yelling. I said, ‘Nobody cares.’ I said, ‘You’re going to get chipped. Nobody cares. We’re trying to win this game!’” Carr recalled. “And I guess there was a little bit of, I wouldn’t say desperation, but I could feel the playoffs at the tip of my hand, so I was like, ‘Can we please get this stop? If you can do it, please, that’d be great so we can get there.’
“I could feel it at my grasp. It was that close.”
The Raiders eliminated the Chargers from making the playoffs, even though Los Angeles had beaten the Raiders earlier in the season. The Bengals similarly beat the Raiders earlier this season, so Carr is hoping what happened against Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert repeats against Cincy’s Joe Burrow.
Keenan Allen #13 of the Los Angeles Chargers celebrates his touchdown with teammate Derek Carr #4 during the third quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium on October 04, 2021 in Inglewood, California. (Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
“We have a tough matchup with Joe and their team this week, and they beat us already. So there’s no pressure on us, man,” Carr said. “I’m just going to go out there and do my best as a 30-year-old old man, I guess. I guess I’m not one of the young guys now, even though we can play until we’re 40ish.
“I guess as the old guy, I’ll just go out there and give it my best shot and see what happens.”