DENVER -- It was vintage Derek Carr, circa 2016.
The Oakland Raiders quarterback, seen then as a carefree gunslinger, before the fractured pinkie on his passing finger, before the snapped right fibula, before the three fractured bones in his back, stepped up in the pocket. Carr spied Seth Roberts between two Denver Broncos defensive backs and fired an absolute laser from 20 yards out.
Carr answered his critics when he threaded the needle and hit Roberts in stride on the skinny post pattern for a touchdown to give Oakland a 12-point lead with 5:25 to play in the third quarter. Despite that, the Raiders suffered 20-19 heartwrenching loss to the Broncos.
“I’m just trying to run coach Gruden’s plays to the best of my ability, exactly how he wants it done,” Carr said.
The major question after the Raiders’ deflating 33-13 season-opening loss to the Los Angeles Rams six days earlier came in some form of the following: Is Carr shook from his injuries?
Raiders coach Jon Gruden’s game plan had to involve short, safe passes early to help Carr’s confidence. And it worked.
“He did well today,” said Gruden, who has lost six straight games now, dating to 2008. “He did what we asked him to do, protect the football, move the football team.
“He's a great player. I think he's going to be an outstanding player. I look forward to the days ahead. Hopefully there are several.”
Carr completed 25 of his first 27 passes -- and should have been 26 for 28 were it not for fullback Keith Smith dropping a sure first-down gainer in the flat in the fourth quarter that might have allowed the Raiders to salt the game away.
Bruce Irvin’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty early in the second half was also a killer in that it came on third down and allowed the Broncos to continue a TD drive, instead of attempting a field goal.
But while Carr was sharp early and often, and the defense dominated early, the run game and the defense let the Raiders down.
Because with 5:58 to play and the Raiders defense gassed, it was on Carr and Oakland’s offense to answer after Denver closed to within two, 19-17.
But they stalled at midfield and had to punt away with 1:58 to play.
Denver simply went down and kicked a 36-yard field goal with eight seconds to play.
Carr finished 29-for-32 (90.6 percent) for 288 yards with the TD to Roberts. But with the defeat, the Raiders lost for the first time in a game in which Roberts scored, falling to 10-1. (Oakland’s franchise record for completion percentage in a game, minimum five attempts, is 91.7 percent, by Ken Stabler, who went 11-for-12 in Week 14 of the 1975 season.)
Still, as Associated Press noted, quarterbacks completing at least 90 percent of their passes, on at least 15 attempts, were 14-0 since 1950…before Carr lost to the Broncos. But at least Carr got a familiar face involved.
Because Amari Cooper, who had one catch for nine yards in the loss to the Rams, had 10 receptions for 116 yards.
“He was great,” Cooper said of Carr. “Very accurate in getting us the ball. He made a lot of plays.”
But the failure to get key first downs in the fourth quarter, combined with a defense that could not get off the field, doomed the Raiders chanc -- and led to more questions. Just not more about Carr.