Derek Carr left the field in a hurry in the third quarter with a gruesome hand injury, but returned to help the Raiders overcome 25 unanswered Panthers points and improve to 9-2 in a wild 35-32 win over Carolina (4-7). Here’s what we learned:
1. Derek Carr was at the head of the roller coaster the Oakland faithful collectively rode on Sunday. The quarterback led an offensive attack that had the Raiders ahead 24-7 at half, then suffered a gruesome right hand injury that knocked him out of the game for a series and sparked a Carolina response of 25 unanswered points. But Carr, wearing a glove on the injured hand and receiving snaps exclusively out of the shotgun, didn’t wilt, leading a 10-play, 75-yard drive capped by a 12-yard touchdown pass to Clive Walford to tie the game at 32. He captained another drive that saw two acrobatic grabs from Michael Crabtree and ended five yards short of the end zone. We went from “business as usual Raiders,” to the injury-induced fall of Carr, back to another thrilling win for Oakland. The Raiders have made their living with heart-stopping victories this season. Why, on Sunday against the struggling but reigning NFC champion, should it have been any different?
2. What an odd day for Cam Newton. He had a roughing the passer penalty go his way for the first time since 2014, and had completed just nine passes midway through the fourth for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Two passes accounted for 132 yards and both of the scores. Carolina morphed into a deep strike offense with little else to offer. It burned the Panthers in the end, when they needed just eight yards to be in Graham Gano’s range for a game-tying field goal, but had a well-placed pass glance off Greg Olsen’s hands on third down and Newton was strip-sacked on fourth down by Khalil Mack.
3. Speaking of Mack, what a game for the linebacker. He finished with six tackles, the game-sealing strip-sack and fumble recovery and an interception he returned for a touchdown just before halftime. The pick added to the early energy the Raiders had built in their favor, cutting off an attempted screen and waltzing into the end zone with the football for his first career score. As he has been for much of his career, he was a force off the edge, causing problems for Trai Turner and Mike Remmers.
4. We’ve made note of this plenty in reference to the Raiders’ ascension in 2016, but again Crabtree was a key difference-maker. In what’s been an up-and-down campaign for him (for example: eight grabs, 102 yards one week; two catches, 10 yards two weeks later), his 110 yards receiving (on eight catches) were a season high. When knotted up at 32-32 late in the fourth, Carr needed to move the Raiders down the field and into scoring position, and found Crabtree twice for 49 and 15 yards. One catch saw his helmet pulled off. The other required ballet-like accuracy in toe tapping along the sideline. In yet another Raiders’ comeback, Crabtree was front and center when it mattered most.