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Derek Carr returns vs. Chargers, giving the Raiders hope for a turnaround

Carr missed only one start with a fracture in his back.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Oakland Raiders Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Raiders have struggled to reclaim 2016’s magic this fall, but the biggest reason for their underwhelming 2-3 start may be solved Sunday. Quarterback Derek Carr will return to the Oakland lineup just two weeks after suffering a transverse process fracture in his back, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Carr followed up on his breakout ‘16 season with stellar performances against the Titans and Jets, but his season took a sharp downturn in a Week 3 loss to Washington. One week later, the Raiders lost a key divisional showdown to the Broncosand lost Carr in the process.

EJ Manuel was ineffective in relief, completing just 55 percent of his passes and throwing just a single touchdown as Oakland went 0-2 in the games in which he appeared. While that was better than last year’s playoff combination of Matt McGloin and Connor Cook, Carr’s role in the offense remains paramount to the Raiders’ postseason success.

What this means for the Raiders: Oakland could have used Week 6’s matchup against a 1-4 Chargers team as an opportunity to give Carr an extra week of rest, but it’s clear the club sees Sunday’s game as a must-win. It’s easy to see why. The Raiders are already three games behind the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West. They’re 1.5 games behind the Broncos and already in poor tiebreaker condition in a race that could define 2017’s AFC Wild Card spots.

Los Angeles isn’t much of a threat, but another loss would dig a hole even a returning Carr would struggle to pull his team from.

What this means for Derek Carr: Carr’s broken back always sounded much worse than it was, but this is an impressive recovery from the young quarterback. He started his fourth season as a pro strong, throwing for 492 yards and five touchdowns in his first two games before Washington badgered him into a two-interception performance in an upset loss. He’ll need to regain that early season form to bring Oakland back to .500.