TAMPA, Fla. -- Derek Carr, in the middle of his third NFL season, has a simple goal for himself in big-game situations.
“I don’t want to look like a young quarterback,” he said. “I want to make sure I get better each game.”
Well, then, consider it mission accomplished. Because after Sunday’s Tour de Force against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in which he threw for a franchise-record 513 yards, including the walk-off 41-yarder to Seth Roberts to get the 30-24 overtime victory, Carr looks more like a tenured veteran and NFL MVP candidate.
Sure, other quarterbacks may have gaudier season stats, such as the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan. And others may have longer resumes, such as the New England Patriots' Tom Brady, who missed the first four games of the season under suspension.
But when it comes to being “valuable” to one’s team, and being clutch enough to win games with a certain swagger, does anyone compare to the ever-evolving Carr midway through the 2016 NFL season?
Sure, we have a long way to go, but at 6-2 and with the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos coming to Oakland for a nationally televised prime-time affair next week, the Raiders are the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff chase.
Yes, all eyes will be on the Raiders in general, Carr in particular. Things are getting real. Almost as palpable as the confidence Oakland has with Carr under center, in any situation.
“I mean, when you think about it, you have No. 4 out there on the field,” All-Pro defensive end/outside linebacker Khalil Mack said. “DC’s gonna fly, he’s gonna let it rip.”
Added left tackle Donald Penn: “People don’t listen to me. I’ve been telling you about Derek since I met him. Y’all just believing it now. I’ve been telling you guys about this guy. Every time I’m asked about him, I light up. The guy’s special and he’s showing y’all now. He’s a special guy. Keep talking about everybody else. We like it. Keep talking about all them other quarterbacks. We like it. We’re going to just sneak in.”
Not with this nugget, though: Carr became the third player in NFL history to pass for at least 500 yards and four touchdowns without an interception in a game, joining Ben Roethlisberger in 2014 and Y.A. Tittle in 1962.
Then there’s this: Carr is on pace to pass for 4,642 yards with 34 touchdowns and six interceptions. And only three Raiders players have ever been the league MVP -- Ken Stabler in 1974, Marcus Allen in 1985, and Rich Gannon in 2002.
Raiders coach Jack Del Rio was not ready to anoint Sunday’s performance as the best he has seen from Carr.
“But it was awesome,” Del Rio said.
“I think we’ll continue to see good ones from him. He’s very confident, he’s got some weapons that he’s utilizing and he had a heck of a performance today.”
Perhaps most telling of the way Carr has owned the Raiders’ locker room and how he may shortly be a nationally respected figure among the other 31 NFL teams, was his knee-jerk reaction in the immediate aftermath of the winning play.
Rather than sprint half a football field to jump in Roberts’ arms, Carr stayed back and hugged his offensive linemen. It was equal parts relief and elation, with gratitude raining down upon them all.
It was almost, wait for it, tender.
“I love them,” Carr said softly. “I am thankful for them. They work their tails off just so I can stand back there and throw the ball, so sometimes I get excited and run down there. But at that moment, it just hit me like, 'Man, I want to celebrate with them.’”
The feeling was, no doubt, mutual. Or have you not been paying attention to Penn?