Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, the Oakland Raiders defense surrendered four touchdowns in a 13-minute span. Early in the fourth quarter, the Raiders were devoid of momentum after choking on a 24-7 lead. They couldn't run the ball with any effectiveness, and their star quarterback, Derek Carr, was dealing with an injured finger on his throwing hand.
Yet the Raiders scored the final 11 points of the game to win 35-32, marking their fifth straight victory and Carr's second fourth-quarter comeback win in a seven-day span.
Just like last week, when Carr was nearly perfect in the final quarter as the Raiders stormed back from a 20-13 deficit to beat the Houston Texans 27-20 in Mexico City, the third-year quarterback led Oakland to victory in a game it almost certainly would have lost in previous seasons.
The mistake-prone, talent-starved, uninspiring 2003-2015 Raiders—teams that posted zero winning records in a 13-year span—would have curled up in the fetal position upon surrendering 25 unanswered points. But this team is different, primarily because Carr is proving himself to be a special quarterback.
The 2014 second-round pick out of Fresno State entered Sunday with a 119.2 fourth-quarter/overtime passer rating, which ranked No. 1 among starting quarterbacks. And he had already led four fourth-quarter comebacks, which ranked second to only Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions.
Last week against Houston, he completed five of his six fourth-quarter passes, with four going for 29-plus yards and two resulting in touchdowns.
This week against Carolina, he completed eight of his 11 passes in the final quarter for 116 yards, leading two scoring drives and a third that ran out the clock in order to preserve the three-point victory.
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He did all that despite the fact the Panthers probably knew what was coming, since Oakland backs Latavius Murray and Jalen Richard averaged just 2.6 yards per carry on their 26 combined rushes.
And he did all that despite a lack of support from a defense that gave up five touchdowns and was bailed out by a missed Carolina PAT triggering a domino effect that ultimately cost the Panthers three points.
He did it despite the fact the pinky finger on his throwing hand looked like this...
Carr appeared to injure the phalange in question on an awkward exchange with center Rodney Hudson early in the third quarter. CBS Sports sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson noted he "was screaming in pain" for quite some time after suffering the injury, and he was forced to miss a series while being tended to in the Oakland locker room.
"It was probably some of the most pain I’ve ever felt in my life," Carr said after the game, via Scott Bair of NBCBayArea.com. “I had a lot of questions at first. Once I asked those questions and they gave me answers, there was no doubt in my mind (I was coming back)."
Safe to say he wasn't close to 100 percent, but that only feeds his quickly growing legacy.
There he was, bad pinky and all, down by eight with nine minutes remaining, throwing a dart to tight end Clive Walford on a 3rd-and-11 to move Oakland into the red zone.
And there he was on the next play, throwing a picturesque back-shoulder touch pass to Walford for a 12-yard touchdown. He followed that up with a missile to wide receiver Seth Roberts while on the run in order to tie the game with a two-point conversion.
And there he was on the game-winning drive, throwing a perfect 49-yard strike to receiver Michael Crabtree despite immense pressure inside his own 10-yard line on a 3rd-and-9. Two plays later, there's another model touch pass to Crabtree for a 15-yard gain along the left sideline, moving Oakland securely into field-goal range for Sebastian Janikowski's go-ahead kick.
|Derek Carr: Mr. Clutch|
|4th Q/OT rating||120.8||1st|
|4th Q/OT YPA||9.0||2nd|
|4th Q comebacks||5||2nd|
|Pro Football Reference/NFL.com|
It's what MVPs are made of, especially considering the circumstances as the 9-2 Raiders inch closer to their first playoff berth in 14 years.
The 25-year-old now has a 120.8 passer rating in the fourth quarter and overtime, with 10 touchdowns and one interception in the final frame. He's one of seven qualified quarterbacks with a triple-digit passer rating overall, but among that group only Carr and Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys have led their teams to nine or more wins.
The Raiders haven't lost since the middle of October, and Carr's been as good as anyone in football during that stretch. The team hasn't played particularly well the last couple of weeks, and yet with Carr steering the ship, it doesn't feel as though they're going to stop winning any time soon.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.