In the lead up to the biggest game of Derek Carr’s life and his team’s biggest game in 15 years, the Oakland Raiders’ quarterback was his usual self.
He was calm and diplomatic, ready to lavish praise on the Denver Broncos — the Raiders’ Week 9 opponent.
“They’re one of the best defenses in the NFL,” Carr told reporters during his midweek press conference. “Let alone this year, but for the last however many years, they’ve been one of the best that we’ve ever seen in this league.”
In a season in which Carr has emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate, he also continues to serve as the archetype of the ideal organizational spokesman — one of the many hats a franchise quarterback dons.
He’s allergic to drama and distraction and even less likely to serve up bulletboard material than he is to throw a pick.
Juxtapose Carr’s approach to the Raiders most important game since Super Bowl XXXVII to the playbook that the Broncos’ secondary of ballhawks has been implementing.
“Make them pass. That’s our key, man,” Denver safety Darian Stewart said in an appearance on SiriusXM NFL Radio.
“Once they pass against us, I don’t think they have a chance, honestly.”
Stewart’s boasts came just days after Carr shredded the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 513 yards through the air. Chris Harris Jr. — the Broncos shutdown corner — said Carr’s career day, which set a franchise record, was a product of circumstances more than anything else.
“The Bucs, they make it hard to watch, watching their secondary,” Harris explained to the Denver Post. “He has so much confidence in [Michael] Crabtree and [Amari] Cooper that he’ll just throw it up to [them]. So we have a lot of chances to get picks.”
The reigning Super Bowl champs and co-leaders of the division have earned the right to trash talk Carr and his band of the AFC West upstarts. Stewart and Harris are part of a pass defense that has been the stingiest in the league, limiting opposing quarterbacks to an average of 184 yards per game — the lowest in the NFL.
Denver will be without Aqib Talib — their other Pro-Bowl corner — for a second week in a row, as the veteran battles a bad back, but the Bronco who takes his place is no slouch.
Last Sunday, Bradley Roby earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors after snatching a 49-yard pick-six against the San Diego Chargers. This week, he’ll be tasked with clamping down on Crabtree, while Harris tries to blanket Cooper.
With his performance against the Chargers, Roby became the second Denver defender to earn that award this season. The first was outside linebacker Von Miller — the Super Bowl MVP.
“It doesn’t matter what you try to do. He’s going to make plays. Eventually he’s going to make a play. It’s just fun to watch him play,” Carr gushed. “It’s fun to compete against him because he’s one of the best. I love that.”
“He’s just a special talent, man. He really is.”
With Miller looming and the secondary swarming, Carr could get dismantled as the Raiders play under the glow of the Sunday night lights for the first time since 2006. He could also put together the kind of performance that becomes the latest chapter in the growing legend of Derek Carr.
Either way, the least controversial man in the NFL will approach the divisional showdown the same way he approaches every other Sunday.
“Honestly, I don’t know if you guys believe me or not, because everyone keeps asking me. I honestly treat every game the same,” Carr insisted. “I really do.”
“I think that if you have to treat it a different way or you have to act a different way during the week, I don’t think you’re doing enough in the beginning.”