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Derek Carr’s biggest obstacle to greatness is Derek Carr

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The difference between a good quarterback and a great one was on full display in Raiders-Packers.

Oakland Raiders v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

With a long stretch of accurate passes and composure in the pocket, Derek Carr can slice through opponents. And with one well-meaning screw-up, he can undo all that good will and remind the world his Raiders are still the Raiders.

Both ends of the spectrum were on full display in Week 7 when Oakland went to Green Bay as a five-point underdog. His overperforming Raiders spent much of the first half carving up the Packers’ revamped defense. Most of that firepower came from Carr himself, who’d averaged more than 11 yards per dropback while turning unheralded targets like Trevor Davis, Keelan Doss, and Foster Moreau into game-changing weapons.

And then, with his Raiders primed to take a 17-14 lead late in the second half, bad Derek broke free:

Facing second-and-goal from the Green Bay 2, Carr rolled out with nothing but a mad dash to the end zone on his mind. And as linebacker Blake Martinez bore down on him three yards from the goal line, he sacrificed his body and stretched toward the pylon. But as Carr went one way, the ball went another — out of his hand and just over the goal line before rolling out of bounds.

That fumble gave Aaron Rodgers the ball at his own 20 with 1:49 to play. Rodgers, true to brand, turned that into a 37-yard touchdown pass to close out the second quarter. What could have been a 17-14 Raiders lead quickly devolved into an 11-point Oakland deficit at the half. Carr was the man responsible for a developing shootout in Wisconsin. He was also responsible for botching a much-needed scoring opportunity.

This is the duality of Derek Carr.

There’s always something keeping Derek Carr from greatness

Carr’s climb back from the broken leg that cost him the tail end of a MVP-caliber 2016 has been tumultuous. He’s been the eye of the hurricane that’s swirled around the Raiders’ franchise as it’s navigated through coaching changes, relocation, and a wholesale rebuild that effectively saw the club swap out all its most important pass catchers over the past two seasons.

But Jon Gruden’s plans for the team seem to be working, and Carr’s been able to spin the hay of a receiving corps filled with Day 3 draftees and various unwanted targets. Darren Waller has gone from Ravens’ practice squad member to the league’s most productive tight end in less than two years. He was just one of 10 different players to haul in a catch Sunday, most of whom have never even sniffed a Pro Bowl vote in their NFL careers.

That’s all a very important function of Good Derek, the man who keeps Oakland hanging on. But after a pinpoint strike to Marcell Ateman set up first-and-10 from the Packers’ 15 in the fourth quarter, Bad Derek roared back to life.

Waller breaks into the end zone, but he’s double covered. His feet get caught up with a defender’s while the ball is in the air, and Carr underthrows the ball where only Green Bay has a shot at it. It’s an easy pick in the end zone, and it spelled the end of the Raiders’ scant comeback hopes.

The thing is, Carr can absolutely accelerate the Raiders’ rebuild

It’s been less than three seasons since Carr was the quarterback of a Raiders team that went 12-3 with him in the lineup. He suffered a broken leg in Week 16, and Oakland was outscored 51-20 in an 0-2 finish that snuffed out its season in the Wild Card round.

The swirling crapstorm that’s been the late 2010s Raiders threatened to make that the high point of his career, but he’s always been a steadily good presence even as the walls have crumbled around him. This was on full display Sunday.

Carr went nearly 30 minutes of game time — from the 6:01 mark of the first quarter to 8:46 in the third — without throwing a single incompletion in 13 attempts. He finished his day with a 22-of-28, 293-yard, two-touchdown performance. It was, statistically, his most efficient game of the season. If we’re going by yards per pass, it was the second-most efficient game of his career.

He’s been a steady, if unspectacular presence for Oakland throughout 2019. As the veteran leader of an extremely young set of skill players, he’s been a rock behind center — dialing up a litany of confidence-building short routes and completing them with pinpoint accuracy en route to a league-high 73.3 percent completion rate through six weeks. He hasn’t thrown a single interception in his team’s wins this fall. His 100.2 passer rating so far is a career high.

Even so, all we’re going to remember from Week 7 — and possibly his entire 2019 — is the red zone fumble that’s threatening to become his signature move.

In perhaps the cruelest twist of the knife, Rodgers — a player eternally stuck on the QB tier Carr’s been left outside waiting in line to reach — opened up the second half with a roll-out rushing touchdown that saw him jog into the end zone right at the same corner where Carr had fumbled a half-hour earlier.

It’s like the football gods demanded an on-field diorama showcasing the difference between good and great. The Raiders and Packers conspired to offer up their best explanation. Derek Carr can be good for a long time and occasionally reach his final form, but there’s always something waiting to drag him back to mediocrity. Sometimes that’s the Raiders’ dysfunction. In Green Bay, it was the quarterback himself.