After rallying to beat the Houston Texans 27-20 in Mexico City on Monday night, there was no time for the Oakland Raiders to stop and soak in the win.
The Raiders — who currently hold the top seed in the AFC playoff hierarchy — flew through the night, touching down in Oakland in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Tuesday was technically an off day for the team, but quarterback Derek Carr and the rest of the Raiders were ready to get right back to work, with a matchup against the Carolina Panthers looming on Sunday afternoon.
“There’s so much film to watch. It’s not like you can get a head start,” Carr explained during his midway press conference at the team’s Alameda headquarters. “It’s just hit the ground running. So, that’s with me and that’s fine with our team because we have a good plan that [head coach Jack] Del Rio put out there for us.”
While the 4-6 Panthers are mired in a tie for last place in the NFC South, Carr knows that Carolina is not a team to be overlooked.
“Our focus is strictly on beating Carolina,” Carr said. “It’s going to be a tough task because they are 10 months out from playing in the Super Bowl.”
“This team coming in is such a good football team,” Carr added. “Their record doesn’t show how good they are.”
After losing five of their first six games, the Panthers have won three of four. The only defeat was a 20-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs — one of the teams chasing the Raiders in the AFC West — on Nov. 13.
For Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton, the challenge will be to dial up a game plan that clamps down on Cam Newton, the reigning MVP.
“He’s in such control of what he’s doing,” Norton told reporters during his weekly press conference. “He understands football. He understands his strengths and weaknesses. He’s a really good football player and there’s no question you have to really do your homework. You have to really be disciplined, responsible football to be successful versus this team.”
During Oakland’s truncated work week, the task of imitating Newton fell to third-string quarterback Connor Cook, who takes the snaps for the scout team.
Out on the practice field at the team’s training facility, Cook played the part as best he could. The fourth-round pick sported Newton’s No. 1 jersey, hiked his shorts up to reveal his compression shorts and wore the signal-caller’s trademark wristbands.
“It’s been a running thing throughout the whole season,” Cook told CSN Bay Area. “Whatever team we play, I try to dress up like that guy. … He has the swag in practice, we’re trying have swag like him.”
While Newton hasn’t been quite up to his MVP standards in 2016 — he has thrown 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions — the Raiders’ current MVP contender might not have all his usual weapons at his disposal for Week 12.
Oakland listed nine players on its injury report — including receiver Michael Crabtree and running back Latavius Murray who are both questionable with ankle injuries. With two of the top offensive playmakers hurting, the Raiders will have to lean even more heavily than usual on star receiver Amari Cooper.
The team will also have to rely on the offense’s unique ability to punish opponents either through the air or on the ground — depending on what the circumstances call for.
“I think [general manager] Reggie McKenzie and coach Del Rio have done a great job — and our front office — of bringing players in who can do a lot of different things,” Carr said.
“And that’s why we always talk about, ‘We can throw it 60 times or we can run it 50 times.’ Whatever the game dictates and however our coaches want to attack it, that’s how we’re going to attack it.”