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Armando Salguero’s Monday NFL Perspectives: Derek Carr Blossoms, Dolphins Defense Collapses, Lions Cannot Finish, Taylor Heinicke Ain’t It, Zach Wilson Problems

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Maybe the Jon Gruden resignation wasn’t such a bad thing for the Las Vegas Raiders because the team is 2-0 since that happened.

And quarterback Derek Carr has seemingly blossomed since Gruden left the scene.

In victories over Denver and Philadelphia, Carr completed 49 of 61 passes for 664 yards, with 4 TDs and 1 interception. That’s a quarterback rating of 127.5 over the two games.

Against the Eagles, in a game that Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller didn’t play and Pro Bowl running back Josh Jacobs got only six carries for 29 yards and missed the second half because of a chest injury, Carr was nearly perfect.

He completed 31 of 34 passes. That’s a 91 percent completion percentage.

At one point, Carr completed 16 consecutive passes.

“I just feel like there’s not a throw that he can’t make,” running back Kenyan Drake said.

Carr’s on a roll, which might raise eyebrows around the league but not within the Raiders organization because they watch him prepare and practice. And he’s merely playing like he prepares and practices, according to interim coach Rich Bisaccia.

“He can literally go through an entire Wednesday and Thursday practice and there’s possibly two or three incompletions,” Bisaccia said.

“He’s the first one in the building and he’s the last one to leave. His preparation, I’ve been around a lot of good quarterbacks, but his preparation is second to none. I think he plays like he prepares.”

Rise of Kyle Pitts, fall of Dolphins defense

The Dolphins have the second-worst scoring defense in the NFL now, allowing an average of 29.6 points per game. That’s quite a dramatic turnaround from a year ago when Miami tied for the fifth-best scoring defense, allowing 21.1 points per game.

So how did a unit that seemed to be getting better drop off the table like it has?

Maybe people have figured them out. And maybe they’re not quite as unpredictable as they once were.

Take Sunday’s loss to Atlanta for example. The Dolphins must have known Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts was going to be a problem. He had a 100-yard game, the first of his career, the previous week against the New York Jets.

And despite this, the Dolphins mostly covered Pitts man-to-man with a couple of zone concepts thrown in here and there.

“We saw a lot of man-to-man coverage the whole day,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “I think that coverage on the last drive, particularly the last plays, is the stuff we’re looking for where you get one-on-one opportunities and you give him a chance.”

And how did Pitts react when the Dolphins inexplicably covered him man-to-man on the Falcons’ final drive, after he already had posted a 100-yard receiving day?

“I was surprised and excited,” Pitts said.

Pitts finished with 163 receiving yards.

Why is Washington content at QB?

The Washington Football Team would be wise to insert itself into the Deshaun Watson trade saga. Or get into the business of drafting a quarterback very high next year.

Because the Taylor Heinicke feel-good story has about run its course.

Heinicke has some solid (not good) statistics this season, which suggest he’s a functional backup in short spurts. But he has now started six games in Washington, and the WFT is 2-4 in those games.

And Heinicke isn’t necessarily playing winning football.

Washington marched up and down the field in the second half against Green Bay on Sunday, gaining 283 yards.

But they scored only a field goal for their trouble.

Heinicke’s play reflected Washington’s problems.

He fumbled on a sack in the third quarter, and that led to a Green Bay touchdown. He scored an apparent touchdown on a 3-yard run, except replay showed he slid down short of the goal line when he easily could have scored.

So no touchdown.

On the next play — it was fourth down — Heinicke fumbled a quarterback sneak and although he recovered, he was stopped for no gain. Washington did not score at all.

On the next series, the final one of the game for Washington, Heinicke threw incomplete passes on third and fourth down from the Green Bay 3 yard line.

So in the shadow of the goal line, Heinicke couldn’t deliver even one winning play but had a fumble that set the Packers up for a touchdown.

Not winning football.

Lions cannot finish

The Detroit Lions lost to the Rams, but it wasn’t for lack of trying, well, everything.

The Lions tried an onside kick, which worked. They tried a pass from punt formation, which worked. They ran the ball on another fake punt, which worked. And they took a 10-point lead twice during the game.

But the Lions simply cannot finish, and it’s been that way for a long time.

In the last three seasons, under two different coaches, the Lions have a 4-9-1 record after they’ve led a game by 10 points or more. Think about that. The Lions have blown nine games in which they owned a two-score lead the past three seasons.

Detroit’s inability to close out an opponent was on display against the Rams in the fourth quarter when the defense gave up a 90-yard drive to extend a 19-17 deficit to 25-17. And on the next Detroit possession, quarterback Jared Goff threw an interception in the end zone.

Goff actually threw an interception the last two times the Lions had the football.

More evidence the team cannot finish.

This and that …

— Jets QB Zach Wilson has a PCL strain and he’s out 2-4 weeks. The time will obviously allow Wilson to recover but also to study his terrible footwork which has led him throw too many passes with something of a hop in his footwork.

— Colts linebacker Darius Leonard forced a fumble against the 49ers Sunday night. It was the fifth consecutive game Leonard has been involved in either causing or getting a turnover.

— The playoffs most certainly do not start today or anytime soon. But the No. 1 seed in the AFC right now? The Cincinnati Bengals, who have a 3-0 conference record.

— New York Jets offensive tackle Morgan Moses whined during his postgame interview that the New England Patriots seemed to be running up the score on his team. The Patriots, leading 47-13, did substitute backup quarterback Brian Hoyer into the game.

But then Hoyer started chucking the football and completed 3 of 4 passes for 79 yards and got the Patriots in the end zone. So is Moses right to complain?

Two things: Bill Belichick has no compassion for the Jets. And it’s the New York defense’s job to stop the opponent. Simple as that.

— Finally, shoutout to Arizona Cardinals linebacker Markus Golden, the only player with at least six sacks and four forced fumbles so far this season. The Cardinals are undefeated because their defense is playing well, too.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

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  1. Armando are the Chiefs finished for the season? I think so. What has happened to Pat Mahomes? What if they don’t even make the playoffs? It’s a stunning fall but I can see a lot of factors both on and off the field contributing to it.

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