Derek Carr has seen previous 2-0 starts turn into disappointing seasons, so he knows not to celebrate anything just yet for the Las Vegas Raiders.
But getting through a tough opening stretch of the season with wins over Baltimore and Pittsburgh sure beats the alternative.
“You celebrate all wins because they’re hard to get,” Carr said after the 26-17 victory at Pittsburgh on Sunday. “But you have to get back to work for the next one. We’ll have fun on the plane. It won’t be a sad flight home, but at the end of the day, it’s time to move forward.”
The Raiders started the season 2-0 for the third time in five seasons, but those fast starts failed to deliver winning records in 2017 and 2020.
This year's version of the Raiders looks a little different thanks to an improved defense led by edge rusher Maxx Crosby and new coordinator Gus Bradley and even better play from Carr.
But coach Jon Gruden knows his team needs to do much more to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
“We've got to get better," Gruden said Monday. "We’re not there on defense, we’re not there on offense, and we need more big plays in the kicking game. But we’re improving on defense. The quarterback is playing great, we need to get our running game going. ... So, there’s good and there’s things we've got to be realistic about as we get ready for the Dolphins. It’s still really early.”
Carr has taken a step forward in each of the past two seasons under coach Jon Gruden but is playing at an even higher level in 2021 thanks in large part to increased aggressiveness.
Carr's average depth of target this season is 9.5 yards downfield, according to Pro Football Focus, seventh highest in the league. That's been part of a steady progression from 2018 when he ranked 29th at 7.1 yards as Carr is shaking the checkdown label.
That aggressive nature was evident at the biggest point of the game when Carr hit Henry Ruggs III on a 61-yard TD on third-and-10 in the fourth quarter while protecting a two-point lead.
That helped Carr become the sixth quarterback to throw for at least 375 yards and two TDs in each of the first two games of the season, joining Patrick Mahomes (2019), Ryan Fitzpatrick (2018), Tom Brady (2011), Drew Bledsoe (1994) and Frank Tripucka (1962).
Deep pass to Ruggs. When the Raiders made Ruggs the top receiver drafted in 2020 at 12th overall, it was because of his blazing speed that reminded Gruden of Cliff Branch. Ruggs has often just been a decoy the past two years, but had a big game against the Steelers. His five catches were a career high and his 113 yards were his second most and the late TD helped seal the win.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Running game. With Josh Jacobs out injured and with a makeshift offensive line, the Raiders again struggled to run the ball. They finished with 52 yards on 25 carries and are averaging 2.91 yards per carry. Peyton Barber led the way with 32 yards on 13 carries. Raiders running backs are averaging only 2.39 yards per carry for the season
Solomon Thomas. The former No. 3 overall pick by the 49ers was mostly a bust in San Francisco but delivered a big game in his second contest for the Raiders. Thomas had two sacks, three quarterback hits, a tackle for a loss and a batted-down pass.
Damon Arnette. The 2020 first-round cornerback lost his starting job this year and struggled when he was forced to play for stretches Sunday. He got beat on a deep pass to Chase Claypool and then forgot to tag Claypool down when he was lying on the ground, allowing him to run a few extra yards for a 52-yard gain.
Rookie LT Alex Leatherwood left in the second quarter with an oblique injury and did not return. ... S Dallin Leavitt was evaluated for a concussion.
817 — Carr's 817 yards passing are the sixth most for a quarterback through two games in a season. The other players with more are: Brady (940 in 2011), Cam Newton (854 in 2011), Kurt Warner (827 in 2000), Tripucka (823 in 1962), Mahomes (821 in 2019), and Fitzpatrick (819 in 2018).
The Raiders return home to host Miami on Sunday in search of their first 3-0 start since 2002, when they went to the Super Bowl.
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