Derek Carr‘s first career win was against the Chiefs, and it took 10 straight losses to get there.
Now, though, Carr is a legitimate MVP candidate through the first 30 percent of the NFL regular season, and the Raiders are atop the AFC West. So much has changed in so little time.
That includes the audibles called at the line, where Carr used to have free rein under former offensive coordinator Greg Olson, but now the checks and changes are built into each play.
Or fourth down conversions, when attempting such a thing was absent. Not to mention the idea that the Raiders are legit contenders.
It helps that Carr is now comfortable in the Raiders’ offensive system, which has grown since a new coaching staff came into the fold last spring.
“That’s the way I love to play. I love having a lot put on my back. Any quarterback does. Coach Musgrave talks to me about his time with Matt Ryan, how he loved that and how we’re similar in that way. We just love that kind of stuff. I absolutely love it.”
Though the Raiders have only two wins against the Chiefs over the last eight matchups, Oakland is favorited by one point as of Wednesday night, according to betting site Bovada.lv.
A revelation, maybe.
Maybe not. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid spoke highly of Carr during a conference call with local reporters:
“Well, he can make all the throws. I think he’s always been able to do that. I think he’s got a good offensive coordinator there and a good scheme I think he’s very comfortable with.”
Kansas City’s quarterback Alex Smith added:
“He’s played so well from the jump, from his first opportunity; certainly a guy with a lot of tools. I think the thing that jumps out is just how fast he plays for a young guy and he continues to develop that. Plays fast, throws things early. He anticipates in the little bit that I have watched. I think that’s kind of the name of the game at this level. You have to be able to play fast, anticipate things. Certainly, physically, he’s got a lot of tools.”
Carr isn’t letting the praise, the record, or any other noise enter the fray. He says he’s committed only to winning this week, especially after being swept last season:
“There’s nothing for us to hold our chest out about or think highly of ourselves in any way. We need to go out there and we need to compete and try to get a win against a team that we didn’t beat last year and we know how tough it is to play them. But, that’s the mindset that we have is, yes the records are what they are right now, but that means absolutely nothing. We didn’t beat them last year but this is a new year and we have a new opportunity.”
Even if his history with the Chiefs has been less than rosy, there’s still a big memory for Carr that comes with thinking about the midwestern fellas in red and white:
“Obviously, it was my first win ever, took about 78 weeks to get to it. It felt good though. It felt good and so I’ll always remember that, but I don’t go back to that game and recall on it like, ‘Oh this is what we did.’ It’s a different offense, they got some new pieces also. We stole Sean (Smith), so that’s awesome. It was a double whammy for us. You look back on that game and it’s exciting but nowadays, we’re so far past that, everyone’s different players. So, we’ve kind of got past it.”
The addition of Sean Smith into the Raiders defense carried several consequences: one less dynamic corner to game plan for, one new corner for Oakland’s defense to utilize, and some extra information that Carr and company might be able to use twice a year.
“When he first got here I picked his brain and have notes on all of that stuff, but I’ve played them a whole bunch of times now. You got a feel for who they are, but you be ready for anything that coach can bring because he’ll bring it.”
Carr’s growth is evident, with stats that place him squarely among the NFL’s best quarterbacks, but so is the growth of the Raiders as a whole — their 4-1 record being the roundest affirmation, despite playing a slew of really solid football teams.
But this is the first time in several years that the Raiders have been favored to beat Kansas City, and it’s a safe bet that they’re going to keep things competitive, at least.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Raiders football.