ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The 2014 draft continues to pay dividends for the 9-2 Oakland Raiders.
Quarterback Derek Carr and defensive end Khalil Mack provided the big moments in a 35-32 win over the Carolina Panthers, a game in which the Raiders blew a 24-7 lead and trailed 32-24 before the top two picks of that draft took over.
After returning from an injury to his pinky finger that appeared to be a dislocation, Carr threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Clive Walford and got the Raiders in position for a 23-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski and a 35-32 lead.
Then, after Cam Newton drove the Panthers into Raiders territory, Mack closed the show with a fourth-down strip-sack and recovery to the delight of the home crowd.
Mack had given the Raiders their 24-7 lead when he perfectly read a Newton screen pass attempt, intercepting it and running it 6 yards into the end zone for his first career touchdown.
Coach Jack Del Rio seemed amused when asked about Mack's performance, given that he had one sack in his first five games after getting 15.5 a year ago. He is up to nine for this season.
"Earlier in the year there was a discussion about his numbers, and you know what I said. He's going to get his numbers," Del Rio said. "He's a wonderful teammate, a talented guy that works his tail off. Those guys tend to get their numbers."
As for Carr, he lost a fumble on the play in which he was injured, taking a snap from under center at a bad angle from Rodney Hudson. He left the field immediately, was taken for X-rays and later said he was in intense pain.
Yet Carr returned after just one series, with a glove on his right hand, and the home crowd erupted when he came on the field. He played the rest of the game in a spread formation, taking no snaps from under center.
"For him to come back, it certainly gave us a lift and then he played well and made plays to help us come back and win," Del Rio said.
During his weekly appearance on the Raiders' flagship radio station, Carr said he didn't expect the injury to be an issue for the next game, a home game against the Buffalo Bills.
"Obviously it's a little sore, but that's expected," Carr said. "It should be good. Just get some swelling down and it will be all right."
Mack was the No. 5 overall pick in the 2014 draft, with Carr arriving at No. 36 in the second round. The two started 0-10 in a 3-13 season as rookies, and took the next step last year at 7-9.
"He's been an all-pro at two positions, he's making clutch plays," Carr said. "Every time there's a two-minute drill, I come up to him and say, `Now it's your turn. Go end it.' "
Said Mack of Carr: "Talk about clutch, MVP. Coming back after that (injury) and throwing strikes. He's a hell of a player and I'm glad he's my quarterback. All you can think about is his toughness."
--The Raiders may get news regarding the possible return of linebacker Aldon Smith this week, according to an ESPN report.
Smith was suspended for a year on Nov. 17, 2015, for violating the NFL substance abuse program. Per the report, Smith applied for reinstatement Oct. 3, which then gives the NFL 60 days to respond. That would mean the Raiders would get an answer by Friday of this week.
Smith entered rehab this season while on suspension after a video on social media appeared to show him smoking marijuana.
Smith had 3.5 sacks in nine games with the Raiders last season before being suspended. He signed two a two-year contract while under suspension.