The biggest story in the NFL this holiday weekend was Derek Carr’s broken leg. The best Raiders team in more than a decade lost its MVP-caliber QB (“MVP-caliber” being code for “we want to acknowledge how excellent he’s been, but c’mon, Brady’s the MVP and you have to work really hard to come up with reasons he’s not”) and further cleared the way for the Patriots in an already-shallow AFC. Well, Raiders fans, there’s a tiny sliver of hope. This is perhaps unrealistic optimism, but there’s a outside chance we see Carr again this season.
Carr is expected to undergo surgery today to repair his broken fibula, and his recovery is forecast at six to eight weeks. Carr’s brother David, a former NFL QB himself, was in the room when Derek got the prognosis.
“I’m there and they say six to eight weeks,” David Carr said Monday on NFL Network of the initial recovery diagnosis. “He quickly does the math in his head and he’s like, ‘That’s the Super Bowl.’”
Six weeks would be two days after the Super Bowl, to be precise, and it would require Carr coming in at the lower end of his recovery. And, more to the point, it would require the Raiders to make it to the Super Bowl with Matt McGloin under center.
The Raiders are high on McGloin—they signed him as nothing more than a spare arm when he went undrafted in 2013, but he so impressed them that they put a restricted tender on him last March, essentially making him too costly for other teams to make a run at him. But McGloin’s task is an intimidating one, especially for an offense-first team like Oakland. A win next week against Denver, or a Chiefs loss to San Diego, would clinch the Raiders the division and a first-round bye. But even with that, they’d need two wins against the conference’s best—including, presumably, at New England—to get to the Super Bowl, and to the slight possibility of Carr’s return.
(This is getting way ahead of things, but if they somehow do make it that far, McGloin might hypothetically prove to be a better option than a still-hobbled Carr. )
No, it’s best not to pretend Carr will return to rescue the Raiders, who are set up nicely for the future but might have to write off this year to the vagaries of injury. Which means some second-guessing for Jack Del Rio, on why he kept Carr in a game that appeared to have already been won. The Raiders were up 33-14 in the fourth quarter when Carr went down, but in his press conference on Monday, Del Rio said there was never a moment he considered sitting Carr to protect against injury.
“I think when you end up looking at the final score—we won by eight points; we won by one score basically. And Andrew Luck—people here in the Bay Area I think have a pretty good understanding of what he’s capable of. I know I do.
“We felt we had to keep the pedal down on that opponent and that quarterback in that game. You’re talking about a team facing elimination. We knew they were going to get everything they had to close the game any way they could. And we were prepared for that.
“The question would be a little different if it was like, ‘Coach, don’t you think you got a little conservative there? What the heck, you let them come back.’ And we’d be sitting here with a frown on our face because we wouldn’t have won our 12th game. So I think… I’ll just leave it at that.”
Injuries like that are freak things, but while the risk may be low in frequency, it’s off-the-charts in severity. That’s why teams sit their stars when they can, just on the off-chance something bad happens that can’t be overcome. The Cowboys, who believe they can overcome an injury to Dak Prescott because they’ve got Tony Romo, appear not to mind running that risk. The Raiders had better hope their confidence in McGloin isn’t misplaced. And again, this is a worst-case scenario that 999 times out of 1,000 won’t come into play; the Raiders just got woefully unlucky. They also had enough on the line that it might not have been the sort of thing they should have left to luck.