Could the Raiders have the NFL’s best “Dynamic Duo”? Raider Ramble’s Sean Hildebrandt thinks so.
The Oakland Raiders’ 2016 regular season was a surprising success at 12-4. The team was showered with league-wide recognition, and the accolades are still swirling around them heading into 2017. The Raiders are now gaining about 12-1 odds at winning the 2018 Super Bowl LII (52) and looking back; it’s clear the 2016 success didn’t come easy for them.
The Raiders Week One victory at the New Orleans Saints came via a late fourth quarter comeback and a game winning two-point conversion stemming from a risky Jack Del Rio call. The New Orleans contest wasn’t an isolated late game heart attack as Oakland’s first five games were all decided by less than 7 points and late in the fourth quarter. Less than 7 points decided four more games throughout the season in the fourth quarter, totaling nine games that came down to the wire. Continuity wise, the Raiders found ways to win while coming from behind and under immense pressure in the fourth quarter/overtime.
How did they do it?
Even though all achievements in team sports take a collaborative effort from all contributing players, the Raiders’ case is particularly special at the forefront as the Raiders have the best offensive & defensive game closing duo in the NFL and it’s not even close. The 2014 Raiders draft class awarded them Khalil Mack and Derek Carr in rounds one and two respectively. Thru their first three seasons amidst pulling the struggling franchise out the gutter, they’ve been nothing short of historic in game-winning situations.
Quarterback, Derek Carr
Carr amassed seven game-winning drives in 2016 during his breakout third season in the NFL. He was unbothered by pressure, elevating his play in times of urgency. Carr is now drawing comparisons to his Laker fandom for Kobe Bryant, as having the “Mamba” alter-ego trait that Kobe owns in periods of great challenge. Carr’s persistent late game heroics earned him The 2016 Castrol EDGE Clutch Performer of the Year to go with a Pro Bowl nod while finishing third in MVP voting.
It’s only fitting that Carr’s first career win snapped a 0-10 start to the 2015 season with a game winning drive against the Kansas City Chiefs. Carr also holds the NFL record for most game winning drives thru the first three seasons of a career with 12. For some perspective Hall of Fame quarterback, Kurt Warner finished his career with 14, and the all-time leader is Peyton Manning with 56.
All in all, Carr’s a special player and has proven he’s atop the list quarterbacks in the NFL trusted to win a game when it’s on the line. Contractually, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie noticed as Carr owns the NFL’s richest contract ever. Maybe some call it channeling his inner “Mamba,” but I’d rather reference another reptilian phrase deeply cherished by Raider Nation. Carr is tapping into his inner “Snake” RIP former Hall of Fame Raider quarterback, Kenny Stabler.
“To this day, if I had one drive I had to make to win a game, I’d want Kenny Stabler as my quarterback.” – John Madden
Defensive End, Khalil Mack
Covering all of Mack’s long list of awards, records and historical rankings is a bit dizzying; the 2016 DPOY just finished his third season and already has a career worth of accomplishments. Why am I discussing him as a defensive closer you say? NFL Defenders don’t individually close out games, do they? In Mack’s case, he does. Since 2015, Mack has 11 fourth quarter sacks, ranking him first in the NFL in that category. Mack has had a propensity to start off games and even seasons slowly. That’s not the case when the game in on the line when his production explodes.
Mack ended Week 12 by visiting the Carolina Panthers and sealing it with a comeback with a beautifully orchestrated sack fumble. It was 4th & 10 on the Raiders 44-yard line, and Cam Newton was hoping to set-up an overtime forcing field goal. However, Mack had other plans and power rushed off the edge, splitting a trio of blockers on his way to taking down Newton and the ball away clinching the victory.
He couldn’t do that again, could he? Look no further than the very next week vs. the visiting Buffalo Bills. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor was inside the red zone trying to cut the Raiders lead down to a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Mack came off the line slow & upright, then charged into the right tackle’s chest and powered his arms shedding the blocker; he used his relentless speed to catch a pocket fleeing Taylor. He caused another sack fumble, recovered by yet again himself. Purely heroic defensive efforts by him that the Raiders defense seemed to always be in dire need of this upcoming season. As a unit, they surrendered 6.1 average yards per play (that’s not a typo).
Mack has come a long way from nearly blowing Derek Carr’s first game winning drive by taking part in a viral comical sack celebration with former Raider Sio Moore. How times have changed.
Leadership to Win
Carr and Mack are the perfect game closing duo as team captains. From the locker room to the huddle, every player has faith in the duos ability to win under any circumstance. That’s a powerful tool for a team that has a challenging 2017 schedule. With a coach earning the fan title “Black Jack” Del Rio for showing his willingness to take risks late in games because of them, it’s hard ever to count the Raiders out. It doesn’t also hurt to have one of the leagues all-time best kickers in Sebastian Janikowski on the sideline, a trio perhaps?