Sure, there are two games remaining -- at home Thursday against San Diego and at Kansas City on Jan. 3 -- in the first season of the Jack Del Rio era. But the Raiders’ slim playoffs hopes officially died Sunday. The Raiders (6-8) are guaranteed not to have a winning season for the 13th straight year.
“It hurts,” Oakland quarterback Derek Carr said of being eliminated from the postseason picture. “It hurts my heart.”
Del Rio and his players were acutely aware of the implications after the game. This is a team that took pride in playing meaningful games in December. That hasn’t been the case lately. After all, the Raiders started 0-10 last season and had won a grand total of 11 games in the three previous seasons.
So, there is improvement in Oakland. On Sunday, Del Rio and his players tried to focus on positives, knowing there will be no bonus football for them this season. Both Del Rio and veteran safety Charles Woodson said “the future is bright,” for the team appears to be in great hands with young standouts Carr, pass-rusher Khalil Mack and receiver Amari Cooper, who Sunday became the first Oakland receiver to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards since Randy Moss did it 10 years ago.
Woodson, 39, hasn’t decided if he will play next season, but he is positive of one thing: This team is on the rise.
"The team is under great leadership under the direction of Jack Del Rio,” Woodson said. “This team will be a team to look out for, trust me."
Yet, the Raiders also know the truth about the present. They are not good enough yet. The future can wait.
“We wanted to win the division. That was our goal and we didn’t do that,” Oakland running back Latavius Murray said. “We wanted to play in the postseason and we came up short. We’re not happy with that. We’re not satisfied at all.”
Carr is one reason why the Raiders are the looking forward to the future, but also know they have room to grow. Carr, who could make the Pro Bowl on Tuesday in his second NFL season, had had hit some rough spots in recent weeks.
The Raiders fell into a 14-0 hole Sunday after Carr threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. In the Raiders' previous home game, a Dec. 6 loss to Kansas City, Carr was intercepted three times in the fourth quarter, including one that was taken back for a score.
Carr had accuracy issues all game Sunday.
“I know when his feet are right, I think he’s very accurate when he’s on balance and fundamentally doing things,” Del Rio said of Carr. “Whether or not that’s part of it or not, I can’t tell you. I can just tell you he’s a good player. We have a bright future because of guys like him. We’re going to continue to grow him and learn from the experiences that he’s getting and as a football team, continue to grow.”
As another season fades, the Raiders again must point to the future. This time, it might actually fulfill its promise.