ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) As the playoffs played in the background, the Oakland Raiders packed their bags, said their goodbyes and began an offseason that started far sooner than they had hoped or expected before star quarterback Derek Carr broke his right leg.
With Carr in a walking boot unable to travel, the Raiders lost the season finale at Denver to fall short of a division title and a first-round bye. Then they were dominated in a 27-14 wild-card loss to Houston on Saturday in their first playoff game in 14 years.
While backups Matt McGloin and Connor Cook struggled to move the offense the past two weeks, Carr could only wonder what the Raiders (12-5) might have been able to accomplish had he not broken his leg late in a victory Dec. 24 against Indianapolis.
''I'm human. Yeah, absolutely. I said, `What if?' I said, `why?' A lot, in the last two weeks,'' Carr said Sunday.
''But I can promise you, I've been the same person. It's obviously hurt me. Some days, I've been really down and sad, but it doesn't change who I am. It just hurts, man. It just hurts because I love our team. I love our coaches. I love the fans. I love playing this game.''
Carr gave the Raiders great hope with a spectacular season in which he threw for 3,937 yards and 28 touchdowns. He led seven fourth-quarter comebacks and became an MVP contender by spearheading a turnaround for a franchise that lost the first 10 games of 2014, Carr's rookie season.
But as much as the disappointment from Carr's injury and the playoff loss left a sour taste for what had been a feel-good season, the Raiders know there is plenty of reason for optimism.
With a young core led by Carr, All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack and Pro Bowl receiver Amari Cooper, a stout offensive line expected to remain mostly intact, and other key building blocks in place, the future is bright for the Raiders.
''We want more,'' coach Jack Del Rio said. ''As an organization, our goals are higher. So, that's not going to change. We're not going to pretend that it wasn't really good. You win 12 games, that's hard to do in this league. We won six in a row at one stretch and never really had back-to-back losses prior to yesterday. A lot of really good things were going on and are going on. We want to build on those.''
As long as Carr is healthy. He said he believed he could have made it back for the Super Bowl had the team gotten that far, adding he will be 100 percent when the offseason program begins in April.
The past two weeks showed how important Carr is to the Raiders. What was one of the league's more dynamic offenses when Carr was healthy couldn't get going at all against Denver and Houston.
Oakland was held to a season-low 221 yards in a 24-6 loss to the Broncos that McGloin started before leaving with an injured left shoulder. Cook came on late in the first half of that game and then became the first quarterback to make his first start in the postseason the following week.
That task was far too great to overcome as he threw an early interception to Jadeveon Clowney and the Raiders gained just 203 yards overall in their second-lowest playoff production ever.
''He won't ever be in a tougher situation than he was then,'' Carr said. ''His first action, real being the starter action, was in the playoffs against the No. 1 defense on paper in football. It will never be harder for him and I told him that.''
Cook didn't get much help as the defense struggled against lesser quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler. The receivers dropped numerous passes and the running game never got going as there appeared to be a psychological hit from losing Carr.
''I mean, it's kind of obvious. DC was MVP all season. When you lose your MVP, makes it tough, even though we have capable backup quarterbacks, very capable backup quarterbacks,'' receiver Andre Holmes said.
''But with all that said, if DC was healthy, I feel like there would be more people in this locker room right now.''
For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL