Oakland — As Derek Carr sprinted back to the sideline, his right pinky dangled awkwardly.
Moments earlier, the MVP contender had jammed the digit on the snap transfer and what was shaping up to be an easy win for the Oakland Raiders had suddenly morphed into a worst-case scenario.
As the quarterback disappeared into the locker room in the opening minutes of the third quarter, the Carolina Panthers began a 25-0 run and turned what had been a 24-7 deficit into a 32-24 lead.
After the Raiders orchestrated yet another late rally to edge the reigning NFC champs 35-32 on Sunday afternoon, head coach Jack Del Rio explained that he hadn’t been certain whether Carr would return to the field.
Midway through the third quarter, the fans let the coach know that Carr was coming back.
“When the crowd started to roar. It was a roar too, so I knew it was good,” Del Rio explained. “It’s only No. 4. It’s either Charles Woodson and he’s in the booth now or it’s Derek Carr. Maybe Khalil Mack, but I saw Khalil.”
Wearing a black glove on his right hand, Carr lead the Raiders to a pair of late scoring drives, as he delivered his fifth comeback win in the fourth quarter (or overtime) of the year.
Left tackle Donald Penn insisted that he’d never questioned whether Carr would return to guide the Raiders to their fifth consecutive win and best start (9-2) since 2000.
“I knew DC was tough,” Penn said. “I asked him before he went off the field, ‘You going to be good?’ He said, ‘I’m going to be.’ I knew he was all right, man. Y’all don’t know DC. DC is a fighter.”
“He’s a beast. He’s a fighter, man,” Penn added. “He came [back] in that second half and didn’t miss a beat. I don’t know what y’all are watching, but that dude is a beast.”
With just over eight-and-a-half minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Carr found tight end Clive Walford for a 17-yard touchdown to bring the Raiders to within two points. He then connected with wide receiver Seth Roberts on a two-point conversion to tie the score.
After Sebastian Janikowski boomed a 23-yard field goal to put the Raiders ahead 35-32 with 1:45 to go, Oakland called on the defense to make one last stop. Mack, who had a already recorded a pick-six in the first half, obliged.
“Pick six, sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery. I’m just blessed to be in his presence,” outside linebacker Bruce Irvin said of Mack, who sacked Cam Newton, forced a fumble then recovered it to seal the Raiders’ win. “The guy is one hell of a player.”
With that performance, Mack became the first Raider since Woodson in 2009 to tally an interception, sack, forced fumble, recovered fumble and touchdown in a single game.
“That’s great company right there,” Mack said. “C. Wood, man, that’s the big bro. We talk all the time. He tells me, ‘It’s time for you to take over the game.’ Fortunately, I was in position to do a little bit of that.”