A couple of weeks ago, as the losses kept stacking up, Oakland Raiders rookie quarterback Derek Carr gathered his fellow draft picks and young players.
He promised good times were ahead. He just couldn’t promise when.
The Raiders take an unsightly 0-10 record into Thursday night’s game against the Chiefs in Oakland, and dating to last season, they’ve lost 16 straight games, or the equivalent of a full NFL season.
They’re tied for the sixth-longest losing streak since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, and are playing for their eighth coach since 2002 after Tony Sparano replaced the fired Dennis Allen on an interim basis when the team was 0-4.
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Carr, the first rookie to start the season opener in the 55-year history of the Raiders franchise, knew he had to do something.
“It was important to let those guys know they picked us here for a reason,” said Carr, the Raiders’ second-round draft choice from Fresno State. “I continue to work my tail off because I know good times are coming. I’m happy they chose me to be a part of it because I can’t wait for those times to come.
“If you come to practice or are in our meetings or in our weight room, you wouldn’t think we’re an 0-10 team because we haven’t given up on each other. We haven’t given up on this organization even through hard times like this. All it takes is one game for the tide to turn …”
Despite such optimism, it may be hard for Oakland, a seven-point underdog to the Chiefs, to find a win this season. Of Oakland’s remaining six games, only one is against a team with a sub-.500 record, and that’s a Nov. 30 trip to St. Louis, where the Rams have beaten both of last year’s Super Bowl teams, Seattle and Denver.
So the Raiders — who lost 19 in a row in the pre-Al Davis years of the AFL in 1961-62 — are on the precipice of joining the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14) and the 2008 Detroit Lions (0-16) as the only modern-era teams to lose every game in a season.
“They’ve lost some really close games,” said Chiefs defensive end Vance Walker, who spent 2013 with the Raiders. “I can’t tell you the issues … but you put the film on, and they look pretty good.”
It’s true the Raiders have suffered some narrow losses. They lost the season opener 19-14 on the road to the New York Jets and 16-9 at New England in week three and 31-28 to San Diego on Oct. 12.
Last week may have been the toughest to take when the Raiders lost at San Diego 13-6 when the Chargers’ lone touchdown was set up when Carr fumbled a shotgun snap at his 18 on the first play of the game, and San Diego recovered.
“It’s tough, but nobody feels sorry for you in this business,” Sparano said. “We’ve have a game here on national TV against a divisional opponent … we get a chance to be measured against another good football team. We’ve had those opportunities week in and week out now with Seattle, with Denver, San Diego, Arizona … the list goes on.”
Sparano has been through this before. He took over as head coach at Miami in 2008, the year after the Dolphins went 1-15. He led the Dolphins to an 11-5 record and to the playoffs in his first season, including a 38-31 win over the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
It won’t be as easy for Sparano to turn around this team, assuming owner Mark Davis and general manager Reggie McKenzie give him the chance. The Raiders, with washed-up running backs Darren McFadden, 27, and Maurice Jones-Drew, 29, are on pace to rush for the fewest yards in the NFL since 1946. They average just 63 yards per game and also rank 32nd in time of possession — 26 minutes, 16 seconds per game — and in turnover margin at minus-12.
Sparano has hitched his hopes to Carr, who last week became the 12th rookie NFL quarterback to pass for more than 2,000 yards in his first 10 games. He’s completed 59.8 percent of his throws for 2,075 yards and 13 touchdowns with nine interceptions and has been sacked just 12 times.
Carr has thrown for more yards than any of the three quarterbacks drafted ahead of him — Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles (1,921), Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater (1,479) and Cleveland’s Johnny Manziel (none).
“We have a lot of respect for Derek Carr,” said Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. “He’s going to be an up and coming player in this league. He’s got really good physical skills, he’s tall, he’s got good vision, he’s got great escape ability. He has a very quick release, he’s going to have as strong of an arm as we’re going to see.
“Unfortunately for us, he doesn’t play like a rookie. He seems like he can read through his progressions pretty good, he works all the way through and as he’s played every game this year, he’s just continued to get better and better. He can extend the play much like the guy we played last week (Seattle’s Russell Wilson).”
That’s why the Chiefs, who can take a half-game lead over Denver in the AFC West with a victory on Thursday, insist they are not looking past the woeful Raiders. No one wants to be the first to lose to a winless team.
“This is a division game, we know how tough these guys are, we play them twice a year,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. “We had a tough game here last year with them at our own place. This is a national TV game. These guys have too much pride to go out there and give us anything less than everything.”
Raiders on a losing pace
The Oakland Raiders have lost 16 straight games dating to the 2013 season, tying for the sixth-longest losing streak since the 1970 merger.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
St. Louis Rams