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What happened to Derek Carr?

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It’s unclear whether Derek Carr’s regression is attributable to his injury history or poor coaching. And the Raiders quarterback would never admit it, either way. (Hector Amezcua/Sacramento Bee/TNS)

How the Raiders QB, cornerstone lost his mojo

 

In the aftermath of the Oakland Raiders’ no-show against the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday, Derek Carr was crestfallen. The erstwhile star appeared as sad as he’s been while in front of a microphone as a member of the Silver and Black.

He’d just delivered his worst performance as a Raider — on a day when the team had the chance to vault ahead of the Chiefs, but instead looked lifeless, at least offensively, for the opening three-and-a-half quarters.

By Wednesday, when Carr once again faced reporters, he’d regained his characteristic composure. His wife and two sons, he explained, had cheered him up.

“I still stand by how I felt, man,” Carr said at team headquarters in Alameda. “I was hot, to be honest.”

The scene in Kansas City was a microcosm of 2017 — not just for Carr but for the Raiders at large.

Last year’s surprise MVP contender and this year’s trendy preseason pick to dethrone the Patriots in the AFC have lost their swagger.

Carr is playing like a quarterback who doesn’t trust his body — or his most immediate boss, offensive coordinator Todd Downing.

Carr and Downing have failed to replicate the late-game magic that, under the watch of former OC Bill Musgrave, led to seven fourth-quarter comebacks last season, fueling a 12-4 record.

The Raiders quarterback consistently engineered rallies highlighted by massive chunk plays that might have been lucky more than anything else.

“I think I completed more deep balls last year throwing it at times I shouldn’t have thrown it and [just] throwing it up,” Carr admitted. “And we all high five and clap about those things … when you lose, people just have a different way of spinning things.”

When the Raiders took over with 2:39 on the clock, trailing the Chiefs by 11, Carr and Downing had the opportunity to author one of those improbable rescues.

Instead, the offense operated with an alarming lack of urgency. When Downing was asked why five of the first six throws had gone for single-digital yardage, the rookie coordinator bristled at the notion. 

“Did you see the design or the concepts?” Downing asked. “There were some routes much further down the field, but they took it away with coverage and then the completion took them there. Certainly, in that type of situation, we’re not looking to nibble and dink and dunk. It was more defensive structure-related.”

Head coach Jack Del Rio, who’s presided over such a precipitous decline that whispers about his future have begun to gurgle up, was also at a loss.

“That’s something, obviously, we’d like to have the answer,” Del Rio said. “If we had the answer, then we would utilize it right now. We’re not going to wait. We’re not holding anything. So, we’re trying to execute best we can and that’s definitely something we haven’t done as well this year.”

The inescapable question is, just how close to 100 percent is the $125 million quarterback?

When asked point-blank in Kansas City if he was healthy — if he felt good — Carr did what any franchise cornerstone would, answered briefly and kept it moving.

“Yes. Thank you.”

Meanwhile, at the opposite press conference, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, whose defense had just bullied the Raiders, suggested Carr was shook.

“Anytime you can hit the quarterback the way he was hit early, that affects him,” Reid said.

That’s the critique that Carr has failed to shake. Following his broken fibula and a transverse process fracture in the past year, it appears that he’s playing scared — that his throws lack conviction.

The numbers indicate — emphatically — that the narrative is accurate.

When Carr is pressured, his passer rating drops 58 points from his mark of 101.2 when he’s kept clean, according to Pro Football Focus. Through Week 14, that was the largest disparity for any quarterback with at least 150 dropbacks — and nearly double the average differential (30.7).

Just like how Carr would never admit to discord with his coordinator or offer a meaningful explanation for the lack of deep throws, the face of the franchise would never concede to playing tentatively — even when asked directly.

“Oh, gosh, no,” Carr said.

kbuscheck@sfexaminer.com

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