Monday night, the Oakland Raiders entered the Coliseum looking to prove a point. With Antonio Brown's public – and ugly – departure from the team over the weekend, the critics were out in full force. Seeing the talented receiver leave for a different team elicited opinions about how this offense would no longer be able to produce. The promise of a revamped passing attack would fade, and quarterback Derek Carr would be held in check.
Well, that certainly wasn't the case on Monday night. Carr was effective against a very talented Denver Broncos defense en route to a completion percentage north of 80 and 259 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions. He routinely found receiver Tyrell Williams and tight end Darren Waller for big plays during a 24-16 victory. Unsurprisingly, Carr was asked about the lack of Brown following the game, but he didn't want to go down that road. Instead, the veteran quarterback wanted to focus on the more important storylines.
"He's gone. I wish him the best," Carr said, per NFL.com. "I hope that we can talk about Darren Waller and what he's overcome. Hopefully we can talk about Tyrell Williams being the No. 1 receiver. Hopefully we can talk about no sacks against that defense. Hopefully we can talk about our rookies and the way that they played on defense. Vontaze Burfict looking like an All-Pro middle linebacker, which we tried to tell everybody these things all offseason. We weren't just blowing smoke. Sorry to take your question and run with it, but we had a good football team even when (Brown) wasn't there."
To Carr's point, Waller is deserving of being the big storyline following Monday's game. The tight end put in a very impressive performance after being talked up by coaches and players alike during the offseason. Waller caught seven passes on the evening for 70 yards and proved to be a mismatch for the Broncos secondary.
Of course, the more impressive aspect is how he performed after recovering from some previous off-the-field issues. During an episode of HBO's Hard Knocks, Waller went into a deep explanation of his battles with substance abuse, as well as how he used it to escape from the mental rigors of NFL training camp.
"I was in Baltimore, I was just like a vegetable," Waller said. "I was getting high, literally, every day. Whatever I could get my hands on. Like opiates first, like oxy pills, stuff like that. Xanax, cocaine. Not caring about anything, any kind of consequences, or anything like that."
Now that he has been clean for two years, however, Waller is becoming a true weapon for the Oakland Raiders. The big tight end entered the 2019 season with only eight receptions for 178 yards and two touchdowns in his four seasons as a pro (one season suspended), but he has clearly earned Carr's trust. The Raiders quarterback looked for him on a regular basis Monday night while finding considerable success. This relationship should only be improving as the season continues.
In the eyes of Derek Carr, that storyline should be far more important than anything involving Antonio Brown.