Second-half utilization of wide receivers allows Derek Carr, Raiders to find rhythm

HENDERSON, Nev. -- Something just seemed, well, off about Derek Carr early in the Las Vegas Raiders' come-from-behind 33-27 overtime win against the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night.

Some of his throws were high. Others were behind. Some too hard. Others had too much touch.

And the Raiders quarterback, his critics will scream to all that is holy in Silver and Blackdom, relied too much on his security blanket, Darren Waller. And even then, Waller himself looked uncomfortable as the Ravens bracketed him. The Pro Bowl tight end, who set a franchise record with 106 catches in 2020, had uncharacteristic drops and was targeted 11 times before halftime. In fact, six of Carr's first nine throws went to Waller, and Waller had one catch for 13 yards in that time frame.

Was the lack of preseason game snaps coming home to roost?

What, exactly, was eating at Carr?

"He misfired on a couple throws," Gruden said Tuesday. "I thought he was high a couple of times, uncharacteristically, but that's a good defense. They can present some looks that you can't ... really rehearse in practice against, and they are very talented.

"But I give [Carr] credit for getting through the choppy water there at the beginning and playing great football. I think he completed 20 out of his last 23."

Consider: Carr was 12 of 25 passing in the first half, with wideouts Henry Ruggs III, Bryan Edwards, Zay Jones and Willie Snead IV combining for ... four targets and one catch, a 15-yarder by Jones. But once Carr found a rhythm, he also found some confidence in said wideouts, completing 22 of his 31 passes in the second half and overtime. Or was it the other way around, a true Silver and Black chicken and the egg discussion?

Because it was the two second-year receivers, Ruggs and Edwards, who helped put the Raiders in position to steal the game.

"Both of those kids made big plays in the second half," Gruden said.

Ruggs came up big on third-and-10 from the Ravens' 47-yard line with less than four minutes to play when he got behind the defense and Carr found him for a 37-yard pickup. Two plays later, Carr hit Waller for a 10-yard TD that tied the game at 24.

And after the Ravens kicked a field goal with 42 seconds to play in regulation to go up 27-24, Edwards came to life. A 20-yard gain and an 18-yard pickup, both down the middle, set up Daniel Carlson's game-tying 55-yard field goal with 2 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

And it was Edwards who the Raiders thought had the original walk-off score, hauling in a 33-yard deep ball from Carr on the Raiders' initial OT possession ... before the replay official ruled him down at the 1-yard line.

A stuffed QB sneak and a false start on rookie right tackle Alex Leatherwood ensued before Carr misfired to Hunter Renfrow and then fired an absolute bullet to a wide-open Snead -- his first target -- coming across the middle, left to right. That throw went through Snead's hands, off the helmet of Ravens safety DeShon Elliott and into the waiting arms of Ravens cornerback Anthony Averett for an interception.

But after the Raiders defense came up huge, courtesy of Carl Nassib's strip-sack of Lamar Jackson, with Darius Philon recovering the ball at the Baltimore 27-yard line, Carr went back to work with his wideouts.

A 1-yard run by Kenyan Drake and a 5-yard delay of game penalty started the drive and the Ravens, hoping to knock the Raiders out of field-goal position, came with an all-out blitz.

Carr merely looked to a heretofore forgotten wideout and lofted the winning 31-yard throw to Jones.

"Zay is my brother, that's family," said Carr, who passed for 267 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and overtime, when he relied heavily on his receivers. "Regardless if he caught that ball or even went on that route, he's family to me. But the fact that he did, I just get to celebrate him. I get to celebrate his success. He had a rough time in Buffalo, and he found home here. I hope he finds home here for a long time because I love that guy so much.

"I'm glad coach trusted us, he put it in our hands. It always feels good to win that way, especially when you almost gave it away."

Then there's this -- after combining for one catch for 15 yards in the first half, Ruggs, Edwards and Jones ended up combining for eight receptions for 173 yards.

And the Raiders ended up 1-0.