When Derek Carr and the Raiders lined up on the Steelers' six-yard line with 25 seconds left in regulation, down 21-17, and facing a fourth down, all Raider Nation — myself included — held their breath.
It doesn't happen often, but the play that could hoist the Raiders to victory was a play designed for tight end Derek Carrier, and the moment wasn't too big for him.
With wide receiver Jordy Nelson and tight end Derek Carrier in formation on the left side of the field, Nelson provided the initial block that drew a defender away from Carrier, but it was the tight end's footwork and cutback that lost his defender. Carr completed the routine pass, and Carrier waltzed into the end zone giving the Raiders a 24-21 lead over Pittsburgh with 21 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
"Really it's just selling the flat, especially when it's a short-yardage play like that the defense doesn't want to get out-flanked, and get a quick, easy touchdown to the front pylon," Carrier said postgame when asked about the play. "So it's really just selling that flat, and then being as quick as you can in transition coming back inside."
Believe it or not, but that Raiders' game-winning touchdown was just the second of Carrier's career, and it's a moment he won't forget any time soon.
"It's up there for sure, it was exciting," he said when asked about where the play ranks all-time for him. "That play got called, and me and DC [Derek Carr] just smiled at each other. We've been working that one for a while, and it was just exciting."
The play lifted the Raiders to victory in the waning moments of the game, and it sent Raider Nation into a frenzy. Carrier's effort on the field has gone unnoticed most of the season, but it's plays like today that make you feel happy for someone like him. Carrier, like all of his teammates, has worked his tail off this season, and even though the team's record isn't ideal, his contributions don't go unappreciated.
"Derek [Carrier] to me is one of those joker players," Carr said postgame. "He's one of those tight ends that runs a 4.4 [40-yard dash], jumps a 40-inch vert, and all those kind of things. Super explosive, but we have Jared Cook who is a Pro Bowl tight end, and if he doesn't go to the Pro Bowl it's a shame.
Carr continued praising Carrier, "There's so much confidence in who he is, and if you talk to [Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared] Goff or any of those guys he was with before, they loved him. They raved about him, and so the fact that his number was called versus a certain look, and all those kind of things, I had 100 percent confidence. I actually missed him on that same play against Denver, in Denver. He could've scored again, and it was my fault, I made a mistake on a call, but I told him, I hugged him after and said, 'I owed you for the one against Denver.' We always have that confidence, he just doesn't get a lot of plays his way. You saw the seam route [against the Steelers today], the guy is a heck of a player."
Wins have been hard to come by for the Raiders, and for much of the season it's placed a lot of negativity on the shoulders of the players, and the coaching staff, but 14 weeks into the season, and the Raiders are focused on having fun. Sunday against the Steelers, there was fun to be had by all, but mainly Carrier, as his late-game heroics helped the team close out arguably the team's best game of the year - well at least it was for Carr.
"Oh man, this is my second-favorite win ever," Carr said after the win. "If they were in our division it'd be first, but it's definitely my second favorite. Kansas City [is my favorite]."
At 3-10 the Raiders aren't playing for a playoff spot, but they're learning a lot about each other. Sunday's performance was a testament to their grit, determination, and ability to power through many of the struggles they've suffered from all season.
"In terms of what we've kind of been preaching as a team is resiliency," Carrier explained. "Because we've definitely faced some adversity this year, and just finishing strong is exactly what we did today."