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Next Gen Stats: Carr's season-defining moment lifts Raiders

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With the 36th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft the Raiders changed the course of their franchise forever. After years riding the tilting experience of the quarterback carousel on the way to nine out of 11 seasons with a losing record, the Raiders selected Derek Carr in the second round. The organization had to hope he would one day develop into the type of quarterback who could bring hope to a team that had been short on that for quite some time.

On Monday Night Football, when the Raiders trailed the reigning AFC South champion Houston Texans, Derek Carr reminded Oakland of that newfound hope they have in him.

It was a first half to forget not only for Carr, but for the entire Raiders' offense. Coming into this contest, Carr and his top wideout duo of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree were flying high on the year. The trio was just three weeks removed from breaking a franchise record for passing yards in a game with 513 against the Buccaneers in Week 8.

The sledding couldn't have been much tougher for Oakland in the first two quarters of this game in Mexico City. Carr didn't even have 100 total passing yards by the time the curtain fell on the first act of the Week 11 finale.

The Raiders' offense is built on short, timing-based passes predicated on the separation ability of two of the NFL's best route-runners at wide receiver. This contest was no exception, as Carr's 2.29 average time to throw was the third lowest of Week 11. Nevertheless, the strong-armed, third-year quarterback also has an earned reputation for pushing the ball down the field. Houston looked to limit both elements in this game.

In the first half, Carr couldn't find the room to take shots down field, averaging just 6.8 intended air yards on his passes. Carr failed to complete a pass that traveled 20-plus yards in the air in the first two quarters. Most of his passes downfield were off the mark, including his early third-quarter interception when targeting Amari Cooper deep down the middle of the field.

Wide receiver play was an issue throughout the game, as well, as the Texans' suffocating pass coverage eliminated the Raiders top two offensive weapons. Raiders wideouts averaged less than 2.2 yards of separation at target in the game, which is under the current NFL average. Carr just didn't have much in the way of open windows to throw to.

However, the key to being a great NFL quarterback is the ability to develop a counterpunch, and to be resourceful when the defense works to disrupt your traditional approach. Derek Carr passed that test in this win over the Texans.

Houston struck first in the third quarter to go up 17-10, and it was then that Carr found that needed counterpunch. As his wide receivers struggled to separate in the opening quarters of Monday Night Football, his eyes turned to ancillary threats on the team.

Carr's only two completions of longer than 20 air yards came on a touchdown throw to fullback Jamize Olawale and the game-clincher to Jalen Richard in the fourth quarter.

In total, Carr's 11.3 average intended and 8.1 completed air yards in the second half noticeably dwarfed what he did in the first half. Indeed, the Texans deserve due credit for forcing Carr and company to operate around the line of scrimmage for most of the night. Yet, it was his two deep throws of the game that provided the timely daggers:

We're witnessing the storybook of Derek Carr's NFL career being written in real time. As observers we get to watch as the fateful pick made by Oakland back in May 2014 changes the course of the franchise's history.

Along the way, we're sure to see many signature moments that define Carr and how we view the Raiders teams he leads through many seasons. In 30 years, when the grand scheme has already unfolded, perhaps we won't remember this late game comeback as one of them. However, there's no doubt that this moment in which Carr found the needed counterpunch to push the current iteration of the 2016 Oakland Raiders to an 8-2 start is a season-defining one.

Matt Harmon a writer/editor for NFL.com, and the creator of #ReceptionPerception, who you can follow on Twitter @MattHarmon_BYB or like on Facebook.

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