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Jared Goff rises, while Derek Carr stumbles to begin Gruden era

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OAKLAND, Calif. -- Jared Goff walked into a cramped room in the belly of Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and commanded the moment without saying a word. Dressed in a tailored plum-colored suit with thin blue window panes, a patterned open-collared white shirt and a perfectly folded pocket square, he positioned himself behind the lectern and cleared his throat. Then he straightened his back and looked into the audience.

The image was that of a third-year quarterback who is completely comfortable with who he is and what he's doing. For several seconds, no one said anything, as if waiting for the young star to give the OK after helping the Rams to a 33-13 victory over the Raiders on "Monday Night Football." When a reporter finally began speaking, Goff reached to his right and grabbed an open bottle of water from a team assistant, took a sip, and then handed the bottle back to the assistant without ever taking his eyes off the questioner.

He was in complete control, just as he had been on the field while completing 18 of 33 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. The numbers were not eye-popping for someone who threw for 3,804 yards and 28 touchdowns last season, but the deeper beauty was in how he performed more than it was in the final results. Goff played with greater abandon, regularly attempting to fit the ball into tight spaces that he might have avoided a year ago, when he was learning a new offense under new coach Sean McVay and trying to rebound from a poor rookie season.

"It really is a result of his (personal) confidence and his confidence in his skill-position players," McVay said afterward. "He's going to give them a chance, he's going to trust. ... I like the fact that he's aggressive, as long as it's in the framework of what the coverage and what the play call dictates."

Goff started slowly after not taking a snap in the preseason. His rust was compounded by the Raiders' ability to control the ball for all but three minutes of the first quarter. But he began to find his rhythm in the second half, when he completed 14 of 23 passes for 173 yards. Although some will point to his willingness to throw deep -- on two occasions, speedy newcomer Brandin Cooks drew pass-interference calls that totaled 87 yards, and on two others, Goff missed Robert Woods by inches -- it was his attempt to fit the ball into tight coverage that reflected a difference in the 2017 Pro Bowler, a point that could be traced to his confidence in the offense and his maturation as a signal-caller.

"I think all of that," Goff said. "It's just confidence in what we do and really understanding the scheme and understanding what we're trying to get to and where the windows are and not guessing -- and really being truly confident in yourself. That showed tonight."

The same could not be said of his counterpart, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. After completing 20 of 24 passes for 199 yards in the first half, he appeared completely out of sorts in the final two quarters, throwing for just 104 yards with a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions, one of which cornerback Marcus Peters returned for a touchdown. There was no play to be made on either, and on the first one, linebacker Cory Littleton was the only receiver in the vicinity. Why did Carr make that throw? Perhaps he was pressing and trying to make something happen, but it appeared as if a clock went off in his head and he was hell-bent on getting rid of the ball.

These things cannot happen if the Raiders are to succeed this season. As much as some might refuse to admit it, 2018 will be a referendum on Carr as much as it will be on new/old coach Jon Gruden. The fifth-year pro, who threw three interceptions overall against the Rams, has to be in command on the field and in the locker room, particularly in light of the recent trade that sent 2016 Defensive Player of the Year (and defensive captain) Khalil Mack to the Bears.

Carr was signed to a $125 million extension before last season, despite having his stellar 2016 campaign end with a broken leg. Then he never quite looked right in 2017. He now has a coach who is evaluating everyone and everything, a coach who is committed only to the bottom line, a coach who believes that to whom much is given, much is required. Gruden has a history of being toughest on his quarterbacks, and he doesn't figure to stand by someone whose performance does not match his contract -- not when the team just received a pair of first-round draft picks in the Mack trade.

To say that this is a "prove it" year for Carr is not an overstatement. The previous coaching staff loved his athletic ability but at times questioned whether he had the internal grit to be the type of leader who could take command of a team as well as a game, who could challenge guys in a way that made them and himself uncomfortable. Even Gruden acknowledged after taking the job that he wanted to see Carr take greater command on the field and in the locker room. We did not see that Monday night. Will we going forward? The answer is a lot more murky today than it was 24 hours ago.

Follow Jim Trotter on Twitter @JimTrotter_NFL.

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