AP photo: Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) fires a pass against the Carolina Panthers last Sunday at the Oakland Coliseum
By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
Sports Radio Service Writer
OAKLAND, Calif — Two years ago, the Silver and Black were in shambles at 2-12 when the 8-6 Buffalo Bills came into town looking to earn the franchise’s first trip to the postseason since 1999.
But that was two years ago when quarterback Derek Carr, who was a rookie at the time, displayed early on the talent that many football experts believe will tab Carr as this year’s league MVP that day when he found wide receiver James Jones for the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds giving Oakland a 26-24 victory, eliminating Buffalo from playoff contention.
With both teams tasting the playoffs as the season heads into the final month, Sunday’s matchup at the Oakland Coliseum at 1:05 p.m. will have the feel of a playoff game which should make for a very competitive game.
Carr has the 9-2 Raiders riding a five-game winning streak, and a win Sunday would put Oakland on the doorstep of the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2002.
Oh yeah, that team reached the Super Bowl that season.
It is still relatively unknown if Carr, who completed 26-of-38 passes for 315, with two touchdowns, and an interception in last week’s 35-32 victory over the visiting Carolina Panthers, will wear a glove in Sunday’s game to protect his dislocated pinkie on his right hand.
During Wednesday’s practice, Carr was seen wearing a glove on his right hand.
Carr took a snap on Oakland’s first drive of the second half and immediately jumped back holding his pinkie. It appeared that Carr pulled from under center too fast, causing the injury.
Carr left the game briefly with the Raiders holding a 24-7 lead, but Carolina would score 18 unanswered points in the third quarter that gave the Panthers a 25-24 lead that left the sellout Raider Nation crowd stunned.
Following a Cam Newton 44-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, Carr would throw a 12-yard score to tight end Clive Walford in the fourth quarter to go along with a 23-yard field goal by kicker Sebastian Janikowski to put seal the win for Oakland.
On the season, Carr has thrown for 3,115 yards, 22 touchdowns to just five interceptions while leading the league’s fourth-best passing offense.
As much as Oakland’s high-powered offense (27.9 ppg) has to do with most of the team’s success this season, it has been the play of the defense, most notably defensive end Khalil Mack.
Mack, who was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Month for November, has been a force for Oakland after a slow start of the season.
Against Carolina, Mack was one-man wrecking crew, intercepting the reigning league MVP and returning the pass for a 6-yard score right before halftime, then registering a sack, a forced fumble and recovery on Carolina’s final play of the game.
In November, Mack recorded 12 tackles (11 solo), four sacks, six quarterback hits, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, two passes defensed, one interception returned for a touchdown all while leading Oakland to a 3-0 record.
But Buffalo (6-5) is a team that can give Oakland problems, especially with running back LeSean McCoy and the league’s top-ranked rushing attack, averaging 157.4 yards on the ground a game.
McCoy rushed for 103 yards on 19 carries and scored two touchdowns, one of which went for a career-long 75 yards in Buffalo’s 28-21 win at home in Week 12 over Jacksonville.
The eight-year pro from Pittsburgh is eighth in the league in rushing with 819 yards to go along with nine touchdowns.
Tyrod Taylor is following up his 2015 breakout season where he threw for a career-high 3,035 yards with 20 touchdowns and just six interceptions with another solid season for Buffalo, throwing for 2,101 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions this season.
Defensively, Buffalo has some great players that Oakland’s stout offensive line will have to contend with on Sunday.
Inside linebackers Zach Brown and Preston Brown have combined for 194 tackles (121 solo), while outside linebacker and ex-Raider Lorenzo Alexander is having a career-year in his 10th year, pacing second behind Denver linebacker Von Miller (12.5) in the NFL in sacks with 10.
Buffalo’s 33 sacks as a team is second only to Denver’s league-leading 35.
The Bills secondary, which gives up just 227.7 yards through the air per game and plagued by injuries, will have their hands full with Oakland’s terrific wide receivers Amari Cooper (66 catches, 922 yards, 3 TDs) and Michael Crabtree (60 catches, 711 yards, 6 TDs) all game long.