Six times Derek Carr had traveled to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City during his NFL career, and six times he walked up the rampway as the losing quarterback. In the time Carr has been the Raiders’ starting quarterback and failed to win in Arrowhead Stadium, he has added two sons to his family. In his seventh attempt, Carr was finally able to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead and did so in marvelous fashion, handing Patrick Mahomes the worst defeat in terms of point differential he has ever had in his young career with a final score of 40-32.
Heading into this matchup, the Raiders were coming off of back-to-back AFC East defeats to the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills. Both of those games were lost due to self-inflicted wounds, including multiple Carr fumbles. For the entirety of the young 2020 season, Carr has talked about how he is sick of losing and needed to be better. Against the Chiefs, he was exactly that, as he led the Raiders to a statement victory that could be a catalyst to turning their season into something ambitious.
In weeks three and four, the Raiders struggled mightily to throw the ball downfield. This was primarily due to the fact that Carr has become reticent to throw deep. There is a common misconception that Carr has always been a dink-anddunk passer. Early in his career, Carr regularly went deep and searched aggressively for longball opportunities. Possibly due to the broken ankle he suffered against the Colts at the end of the 2016 season that dashed the Raiders’ deep playoff run hopes, Carr has become much more comfortable getting the ball out quickly. But against Kansas City, he flipped that script.
Another component that helped enable Carr’s confidence to go downfield was the added boost from a pair of returning players to the offense.
Pro Bowl right tackle Trent Brown returned to the lineup since his injury in week one, and explosive rookie wide receiver Henry Ruggs III also returned. In weeks one and two when Ruggs was in the lineup, the Raiders threw the ball deep and got him involved in multiple ways. His long speed and explosive skillset helped open up the offense.
Carr’s stat line at the end of the Kansas City game was 22 for 31 for 347 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. Ruggs only caught two passes, but he recorded 118 yards and a 72-yard touchdown. Ruggs was not alone in catching long bombs from Carr; veteran wide receiver Nelson Agholor caught a 59-yard touchdown pass as well.
The other big story coming out of this game is the performance of the much-maligned Raider defense. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has had plenty of resources sent his way to help develop the defense, but it has been at times a disaster. After this performance, it seems that the defense was specifically built to beat the Chiefs.
Coming into this game, the Raiders were the worst pass rushing team in the NFL in terms of sacks and pressures. Yet on Sunday, the defense was able to produce over 20 pressures and a total of three sacks. This was especially prevalent in the second half when the coverage began to tighten on the Chief receivers and the defensive line was able to close on Mahomes.
Both young defensive ends for the Raiders had productive games. Maxx Crosby continued to add to his sack total with one more in this game, but last year’s fourth overall pick Clelin Ferrel produced several pressures including the one that led to Chris Smith’s sack and one that helped lead to the Jeff Heath interception in the fourth quarter.
On the ground, the Raiders were not as explosive as they have been in past games, however they did produce and it was not all Josh Jacobs. Veteran running back Davontae Booker came in to spell Jacobs throughout the game and added an explosive dimension to the offense that gave a significant change of pace. He ended the game with 62 yards on seven carries, but the timing of his carries continued to breathe life into the Raider offense.
When the Raiders needed to close drives or they needed to close this game, they turned to Jacobs, who has been dealing with injuries early in this season. He picked up 77 yards on 23 carries, while racking up two more touchdowns.
After five games the Raiders are 3-2 with solid wins against other 3-2 teams in the Panthers and Saints, along with the aforementioned victory against the at-the-time undefeated, defending Super Bowl champions on the road. Their two losses came against teams with very similar play styles to the Patriots and Bills. Both of those losses came in competitive games which boiled down to a handful of senseless mistakes that compounded into a loss.
For head coach Jon Gruden, this has to be a fairly solid result going into the bye week. Now the Raiders have some time to get healthy on defense while continuing to refine the offensive attack. When the team comes back, they will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who currently lead the NFC South.
There is a real race in the AFC West between the Raiders and Chiefs. The likelihood that the Raiders will win the division is minimal; however, if they can keep pace with the Chiefs for the entire season then they should be able to find a spot in the playoffs.