Derek Carr’s injury was not unique. Heck, he wasn’t even the only quarterback to suffer a broken fibula on Sunday. A sad fact of football is that playoff teams lose their starting quarterbacks all the time to injury and have to adapt. Ask this year’s Dolphins. Or last year’s Bengals. The 2013 Cardinals. The 2012 Vikings. The 2011 Texans. Need I go on?
But just because it’s happened before, it doesn’t make Carr’s injury this time around any less saddening. It’s not just sad for Raiders fans, who are about to get their first taste of playoff football in 14 years; Carr’s injury sucks for any football fan. Anyone who thought the AFC playoffs could be a wacky and wide-open affair this year just lost the only true wild card in the deck.
Admittedly, I was skeptical of this young Raiders team’s chances in the playoffs due to a lack of experience. But I was still excited to see if their explosive offense could go toe-to-toe with the Steelers and Patriots. With Khalil Mack and the defense hitting their stride down the stretch, this certainly appeared like a team that could beat you in different ways come playoff time.
Now, it’s a team that can only beat you one way. And that way isn’t nearly as much fun to watch as Carr and Amari Cooper hooking up for big play after big play. They’ll rely on their excellent offensive line to power the run game and keep backup Matt McGloin clean enough to complete easy intermediate throws. But the spark of this team is gone.
Nobody expects a backup quarterback to hit a ton of (if any) deep throws. While Carr himself didn’t dial up deep balls often, he was a pretty effective when he did, completing 44-percent of throws over 20 yards downfield. That efficiency in the deep ball game is almost certainly gone with McGloin under center. In his limited relief efforts over the past three seasons (55 attempts) he’s only taken four deep shots, and even if Jack Del Rio trusts him to do more, his production won’t be anywhere near Carr’s.
With a huge element of their pass game gone, there will be no crazy comebacks should the Raiders fall behind big in the second half again. Nor will there be any dramatic shootouts. And most importantly, they will not be able to challenge New England. And that is the greatest loss for all of us.
We’ve seen Kansas City and Pittsburgh lose in Foxborough before, and no one is really expecting a different result in a rematch. Oakland was the great mystery; the team that was young and foolish enough to not know you aren’t supposed to win at Gillette in January. Now we’ve lost that unknown, and with it, a compelling final four.
The greatest tragedy now would be if Oakland were to lose the division title next week, and set up a potential Chiefs-Steelers meeting in the Divisional round. The Patriots are poised to win another conference title. The least they should have to do is beat the only two teams that appear capable of challenging them anymore.
Clearly, I don’t think much of McGloin as a quarterback if I’m writing a Raiders eulogy. But I’m praying, begging him, to find enough talent inside to beat the Broncos this weekend. Help salvage what will otherwise be a very boring AFC playoffs by securing the two seed for Oakland and leaving the possibility for Chiefs-Patriots and Steelers-Patriots. You owe it to football fans everywhere.
(Although… McGloin vs Tom Savage in the Wild Card round would be a hilariously awful game in its own right. I guess that isn’t a bad consolation prize.)