In one play, one second, one moment in time, a season went from one of the great stories in recent years to one of such loss and heartbreak. All it took was one play, one mistake from the tackle, one play when the QB who gets rid of the ball so quickly doesn't do that. From the second it happened, he knew it was over. Soon the team did as well. Derek Carr's season ended last Saturday, on Christmas Eve, a sullen lump of coal for all the silver-and-black clad fans that made Oakland rock again.
I'm a Raider fan. I was a Raider fan when I first started watching football. I was a Raider fan when I followed their 2002 Super Bowl team week to week. I was a silent Raider fan as they went through the roughest 7-year stretch (2003-2009) of any team nearly ever. I was less silent during their brief 'renaissance' in 2010-11 when they went 8-8 twice. I was even less silent as the rebuild went slowly at first, but there was no need to be silent this year. The Raiders are good, the Raiders are a playoff team. It's a cruel irony when they finally get back it will be without the one guy who can eventually make them great.
The 2016 Raiders were not a great team. There is no reason they should be 12-3 right now, full off of crazy wins, comebacks and two-point conversions. They really are about 10-5 good, but willed out two extra games. This was not a season that should end in a Super Bowl win, but they had a chance with Carr. They had a chance with an offense that could score anywhere (except against the Chiefs, apparently). They had a fearlessness that the late Al Davis would have admired. They breathed life into that hollowed-out stadium they still have to call home. It was a season of such joy, such amazement, such intrigue, washed away on one play. For us Raiders fans, that was the cruelest part, but now we must look forward, as that is still just as bright.
Climbing the ladder as a franchise to the ultimate goal is rarely a linear rise. There are generally periods of uncertainty, of falls down, and none is bigger than this. The Raiders future is bright, arguably when you look at a 5-10 year outlook, they may have the brightest future of any team, with two 25-year old superstars. One at the most important position (Derek Carr, who should only get better, as he has done every year) and the other at, arguably, the second (Khalil Mack). They have other very good to great young players, headed by Amari Cooper. They have so much cap space to spend still, and have drafted really well in the past couple years. The future is not any less bright, but sometimes the future is still only a concept. What's tangible was now, and now there is nothing.
If the Raiders went 10-5, or 9-6, and were in position to be wild-card fodder, I would not have cared nearly as much for Carr's injury. Going from 7-9 to 10-6 would have been natural. Instead, the Raiders cheated and jumped a few wins a year early, put themselves in decent positions to steal a weak AFC (this is not a great Patriots team, 14-2 or not). They had a shot, and Trent Cole took it away. It is never so easy, never such a smooth ride.
The Raiders have gone through this rebuild with such steely focus and patience. Reggie McKenzie is getting a lot of plaudits as a GM, but we should probably direct some of that praise to the man above him. Mark Davis showed extreme patience when they went 4-12, 4-12 and 3-13 in the first three years. Mark Davis didn't blink, understanding just what McKenzie was planning and doing. A few good draft picks later and few teams are positioned any better than the Raiders. We just have to now hope that the fans (including myself) have as much patience.
If the future plays out like it should, and like all the crazy Raiders fans expect, we will look back at the 2016 season as the start of somethign amazing, but the ultimate tease of a season. And maybe that is not so bad. Suffering is good. A team that wasn't as good as its record anyway probably should get hurt a bit to keep that fire going, to keep the ship dead-straight ahead. The Raiders will hopefully be better off for having to suffer their first playoff season without their leader. Learning patience is so important, and if both the fans and the team themselves can do it well, the future will be incredibly bright.