Raiders' Title Hopes Cruelly Evaporated After Devastating Derek Carr Injury

Mike FreemanNFL National Lead WriterDecember 24, 2016

Raiders star quarterback Derek Carr suffers broken fibula, scheduled for surgery Sunday.
Raiders star quarterback Derek Carr suffers broken fibula, scheduled for surgery Sunday.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

You could read the lips of Derek Carr after he went down in a heap, his right ankle stuck and twisted under the body of 270-pound Indianapolis defensive lineman Trent Cole. One of the first things Carr said: "It's broke." 

Then, Carr appeared to say, "It's bad."

Carr was helped off the field, unable to put weight on the leg, and it was obvious from Carr's reaction, and the sudden quietness of a nervous fanbase at Oakland Coliseum, that something was seriously wrong.

"We all felt it," coach Jack Del Rio told the media after the game. "I think the stadium felt it."

The 33-25 score didn't matter. The fact the Raiders had their first 12-win season since 2000 didn't matter. All that mattered was Carr.

Carr was surrounded by teammates and medical officials, and eventually an air cast was put on Carr's leg. A player's reaction is often the best indicator of just how bad an injury is. They know their bodies. They've experienced everything. As Carr was driven off the field, he fought back tears. He knew. He knew.

And Carr's instincts were right. Del Rio announced to the media after the game that Carr has a broken fibula and the quarterback is out indefinitely. Surgery is scheduled for Christmas day.

The injury is devastating for any number of reasons. The Raiders are one of the best feel-good stories in all of sports, a team that made the postseason after years of recent misery. A team that had restored glory to a franchise that once swelled with it.

It is devastating because Carr is a talent, and a good dude, and fact is, you hate to see awful things happen to nice players.

Most of all, the injury is a killer because the Raiders have no chance to go far in the playoffs without Carr. They are not beating the Patriots with Matt McGloin at quarterback. They'd barely be able to beat the Texans with Matt McGloin at quarterback.

Yes, stranger things have happened, and maybe the Raiders can go on a wilder ride than the one they've already been on this season. Maybe the ghosts of Ken Stabler and Al Davis and the coaching spirit of John Madden can infect the team, but this injury felt like when Bo Jackson went down or Rich Gannon was lost. There was a sense of dismay, and a punch to the gut. That's what this feels like now.

Perhaps just as big a story is what the Carr injury does to the AFC playoff picture. The Patriots were already heavy favorites to reach the Super Bowl, but now they are even bigger ones. The two teams in the AFC that were legitimate threats were the Steelers and Raiders. Now, the Raiders don't have a shot.

I don't mean to sound cruel. Or like a jerk. But you cannot expect McGloin to be Carr. You cannot expect McGloin to beat Brady.

The Raiders are done.

This is something that so many fans understood, and what Raiders owner Mark Davis fully comprehended. Television cameras caught Davis appearing to question why Carr was still throwing the ball:

Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota also suffered a broken leg in what proved to be a devastating Saturday for AFC quarterbacks.
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota also suffered a broken leg in what proved to be a devastating Saturday for AFC quarterbacks.Rob Foldy/Getty Images

And the AFC is slightly more open than it was 24 hours ago, before Carr's ankle was twisted, and history changed.

"It obviously is a blow," said Del Rio. ... "You rally around the next guy."

Del Rio added: "Most athletes have a pretty good idea when something has gone wrong with their body."

It's expected that Del Rio would take the next-man-up approach. That's what smart coaches say, and Del Rio is one of the brightest in football. But you could look at Del Rio's face and he couldn't hide his shock.

The Carr injury, and others around the league, shows just how quickly destinies change in this physically nasty sport. Marcus Mariota broke his leg Saturday against Jacksonville. Two paths changed in a matter of hours.

So the playoffs could feature McGloin, Matt Moore in Miami and Tom Savage in Houston. Not exactly Montana, Marino and Moon.

Before the Carr injury, if I had to pick the most dangerous team from each conference not named the Cowboys or Patriots, in the NFC, it would be the Packers, and in the AFC, it would have been the Raiders.

A healthy Carr made Oakland a nasty, potentially high-scoring team that could have gone into any environment, including New England, and won. One of the biggest reasons why was that offensive line. It was stunning to watch that line absolutely quantum-torpedo Colts defenders. Now, manhandling Colts defenders isn't exactly tough for most teams. "Colts" and "defense" go together like peanut butter on a blueberry muffin (actually, that sounds pretty decent, but you get the point). Everyone crushes the Colts.

But this was a particularly nasty beating. The running lanes were open, glistening and wide, and Raiders backs ran at will.

They also kept Carr relatively safe, giving him time to make some of his best throws since injuring that finger. He looked like the old Carr.

Then came that nasty, destiny-changing ankle injury.

It's over for Carr this season. It also means this magical Oakland story will have a short ending in the playoffs.

Carr was right. This is bad.

    

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @mikefreemanNFL.