Browns' Mayfield makes 1st start against Carr, winless Raiders
OAKLAND, Calif. -- When the Cleveland Browns leave the Dawg Pound behind and visit the Oakland Raiders Black Hole at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum Sunday, the game will feature two highly hyped players trying to prove they are indeed what is known as Franchise Quarterbacks.
Cleveland is 1-1-1, Oakland 0-3.
The Browns will unleash their controversial No. 1 2018 draft pick, Baker Mayfield, for his first NFL start after bouncing off the bench last Thursday (Sept. 20) to lead Cleveland on a come-from-behind, 21-17, victory over the New York Jets.
That famously ended a Browns' winless streak at 635 days. And although Browns head coach Hue Jackson feigned the necessity of deciding if Mayfield would be the starting quarterback this week, is was a foregone conclusion. By kickoff, an intense pressure cooker of suspense will be ready to explode with some multi-megaton rating.
The Raiders counter with Derek Carr, who was a mere second-round pick out of Fresno State in 2014, but quickly became a team leader touted as a Franchise Quarterback, and paid like one with a contract extension in 2017 worth $125 million over five years. However, despite improved play since the season opener, Carr and the Raiders are a disappointing 0-3 entering this game.
In fact, despite tons of praise and a well-stocked bank account, Carr has only one winning season going into his sixth year and a career record that is now 28-37.
It may be a fortuitous turn for Carr that the national focus in Sunday's game in Oakland will be on Mayfield, a gunslinger whose comparisons range from Johnny Manziel, due to size and impromptu demonstrations, to Brett Favre, with whom he shares a high-caliber gun, hair trigger and a killer mentality.
The Browns obviously saw more of the latter, so they selected the controversial Oklahoma quarterback over popular top choice Sam Darnold. And the irony of that draft decision was not lost when Mayfield's victorious debut was against Darnold.
Meanwhile, Carr and the Raiders may not be as bad as their 0-3 record might indicate. They lost to three teams with a combined 8-1 record - the Los Angeles Rams (3-0), Detroit Lions (2-1) and Miami Dolphins 3-0. And the Raiders were ahead in the third and/or fourth quarter of each game.
Not coincidentally, Carr's season reflects the Raiders' overall frustrations. Carr has a 76.6 completion percentage, second in the NFL only to Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints).
The Raiders are sixth in the NFL in total offense.
But, like the rest of the team, his mistakes are made at critical times. The Raiders were outscored in the fourth quarter 37-3. Carr's five interceptions are tied for most in the league.
Jon Gruden, the quarterback guru who himself is looking for his first win in 3,591 days (or nine years and 10 months), was on point when describing Carr's play this year.
"I think at times he is trying too hard," Gruden said. "I think sometimes he needs to learn a little bit more patience and he will. I'm really excited about the way he has played and improved and mastered this offense. We are getting closer."
Now that Carr has overcome some technical issues and is throwing the ball with authority, perhaps he needs to balance his confidence with discretion.
Not unlike Mayfield of the Browns, Carr may need to get the bit in his mouth to maintain consistency. If so, he should reflect on what he said after that late interception last week.
"I just saw one-on-one with Martavis (Bryant)," Carr said. "I just gave him a chance, just like I have a hundred other times in my life. They ended up making a good play. It sucks, right? The outcome sucks; but I think going back through in my head, getting one-on-one with that guy I'd probably have to do it again."
No, Derek. Either don't throw the pass or harken back to the Raiders days when another gunslinger, Ken Stabler, would take such a shot only by throwing it so high to the back pylon that either tight end Dave Casper could get it - or nobody. The gunslinger mentality is the same, but the difference is between ready, ready, fire, aim and ready, aim, fire.
Of course, there are many factors that will decide the outcome of this game, but the most compelling one is the ability to watch two talented, gunslinging quarterbacks trying to find their niche in football history by simply getting the bit in their mouth.
Updated September 27, 2018