In a strange twist, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr ended up in his third straight Pro Bowl because New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was unavailable to play. Something about Brady practicing for another upcoming game called the Super Bowl.
Aren’t the Raiders and Patriots always intertwined in some way?
Though Carr had intended on being the quarterback representing the AFC in the Super Bowl this season, Brady and the Patriots once again outshined everyone else in the conference. This was Carr’s consolation prize.
On the bright side, Carr had another chance to rekindle his relationship with Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and other star players from the AFC in Sunday’s Pro Bowl. Once again, Carr made the most of his time in the game he would rather not have been available to play in.
Carr entered the game with his team trailing 20-10 in a steady downpour. He wasted little time making an impact. Just as he had done in his first Pro Bowl, in 2016, Carr looked to Hilton. Two years ago, Carr delivered a 60-yard strike for a touchdown on what probably was the best play of Carr’s career.
Sunday, Carr delivered a 39-yard pass to Hilton to the 2-yard line. That set up a LeSean McCoy touchdown that cut the NFC’s lead to 20-17. The AFC trailed 23-17 three drives later, when Carr weaved his final magic.
Good thing, too, or else his play might have been remembered more for the pass he had intercepted by Patrick Peterson on a deep throw to Keenan Allen midway through the fourth quarter.
On the game-deciding drive, Carr completed a pass to Jarvis Landry for 12 yards on a fourth-and-7 play early on. Three plays later, he connected with tight end Delanie Walker for an 18-yard touchdown with 1 minute, 31 seconds left.
Overall, Carr completed 11 of 15 passes for 115 yards in relief of Alex Smith and Ben Roethlisberger.
Carr’s performance was a sweet ending to an otherwise disappointing season, personally and for the Raiders. Ultimately, his biggest accomplishment from this year’s Pro Bowl experience might be the bonds he formed with players who are set to hit free agency March 14th or in subsequent years.
Carr represented the Raiders and AFC in this year’s practices, competitions and games. But he also had ample time to hang with players from both teams and put in the minds of free agents-to-be, even if that isn’t for this offseason.
Players are curious about what it’s like playing for other teams, especially if they have spent their entire careers with the same team. That curiosity is even more heightened when it comes to the Raiders on the heels of Jon Gruden being hired.
There are few active players who know what it’s like playing for Gruden — current Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski and left offensive tackle Donald Penn are among the select group — because Gruden last coached in 2008.
However, Carr has spent time with Gruden since he appeared on Gruden’s QB Camp show for top NFL prospects in 2014. He at least has an idea of what it’s like being around Gruden, being critiqued by Gruden and being poked and prodded. He also has had some conversations with Gruden since he was hired to replace Jack Del Rio.
If Carr can be the difference between a high-profile free agent signing with the Raiders and not the Patriots, say, or some other challenger for AFC supremacy, he can look back on his Pro Bowl experience and realize that his biggest play, or plays, didn’t yield dividends until long after the all-star game had been played.