In the closing minutes of the Oakland Raiders’ first win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the Jack Del Rio era — as Derek Carr went to work meticulously crafting his NFL best 12th fourth-quarter comeback since 2015 — the head coach couldn’t bare to watch.
As dozens of players, coaches and staffers crowded along the sideline, there was Del Rio, well behind the crush, unable to watch the proceedings from his perch, instead relying on the reaction of the crowd to inform him of the results.
Del Rio apparently hadn’t been in on Carr’s pregame meeting when the quarterback had imparted a simple message to his teammates.
“It’s time to have some fun,” Carr said of his advice. “And I think all of Oakland was able to have some fun [Thursday night].”
Minutes before Carr had taken the postgame podium, Del Rio made a rare appearance in the locker room, shaking hands and wearing his biggest smile in more than a month.
“[I] love to be in this theater where you’re putting your neck out there and it can go one way or another,” Del Rio explained. “You’re putting your neck out there in front of the whole world to watch.”
Thanks to Carr’s late-game heroics, Del Rio, who’d cut a stressed profile and been devoid of answers during the now defunct four-game slump — and even during that final drive — had his poise back.
“There’s something about that [experience] that is exhilarating,” Del Rio continued. “We tapped into that. Our guys came in with a great mindset and we were determined to leave here with a victory.”
Before Carr conducted the 65-yard, 11-play drive that salvaged the season, the face of the franchise turned his attention to Rodney Hudson, his pro bowl center.
“We’ve done this a couple of times together,” Carr said. “So, when we took the field that last time, I looked at Rodney and said, ‘Alright, let’s go.’”
Then, he turned to his corps of pass catchers.
“I looked at my wideouts and didn’t have to say anything. They said, ‘We got you. Just throw it up,’” Carr said.
“And that makes the quarterback’s heart beat a little bit slower when you know you have guys that got your back.”
While veteran Michael Crabtree was the Raider who caught the final touchdown, tapping his knees just inside the front corner of the end zone before tumbling out of bounds, Carr’s ability to get Amari Cooper back on track — with an explosive first quarter — is what set the stage for the eventual comeback.
“With every offensive position, be it running back, receiver, whatever, when you get that first touch, it creates a little bit of confidence,” Cooper explained. “You go out there believing in yourself and do your thing.”
Cooper, who entered the game with 146 yards in six games, collected 210 in his outing against the Chiefs.
His first of two touchdowns was a 38-yard flea flicker that punctuated the opening drive.
Carr, always one to lavish praise on his teammates and coaches, credited Cooper’s second score of the first quarter — a 45-yard strike — for unlocking the previously erstwhile star-in-the-making.
“The second touchdown where he came across — the burst that he had — that’s freakish now,” Carr marveled.
“To turn the jets on like that and just outrun the angles of the defense that was really special,” Carr added.
“So, I think after that catch, man, he just played with some dog in him.”
With Del Rio beaming and Cooper flying, the Raiders, at least for a night, transported back to their form from a year ago, when Carr was the catalyst sparking the club to comeback after comeback, all in thrilling fashion.
Now, the Raiders, with the benefit of an extra weekend of preparation, turn their eye to the Week 8 matchup with the Buffalo Bills. With a win, the Raiders will claw back to .500 — a notion that seemed all but impossible before Carr willed the Raiders past the Chiefs.
After Carr’s 417-yard, three-touchdown showing against the Kansas City, Del Rio insisted there was no extra emphasis on having the QB start more aggressively.
“No,” Del Rio said. “[We] just discussed him being himself and being the stud that he is.”
For the back-to-life Raiders, that’s the game plan moving forward.