ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Though the Oakland Raiders were long ago eliminated from playoff contention, Andre Carter is relishing the final few weeks of the season as if it were a championship run.
Just over a year after sustaining a quadriceps injury that could have ended his career, the defensive end thinks he's almost all the way back to the form that earned him his first Pro Bowl selection in 2011.
"I'm pretty close," Carter said Friday. "As a player you always have to be honest with yourself and say, 'OK, maybe I can still contribute, but not on a high level.' I still like I can play at a high level. I still feel like I can be a productive player."
Carter had a sack and three quarterback hurries in the Raiders' 15-0 victory over Kansas City last week, and has played 70 snaps over the past two games.
His overall numbers (25 tackles, two sacks in 10 games) aren't on the elite level. However, over the past month, Carter been one of the Raiders' most productive defensive linemen while nudging out starter Matt Shaughnessy for playing time.
What Carter doesn't have is a contract for next season.
The seventh overall pick in 2001, who enters Sunday's game at Carolina eighth among active players with 78 career sacks, is one of 21 players on Oakland's roster scheduled to become free agents next season.
What the market will be for an aging defensive lineman coming off a major injury is uncertain, especially for one who turns 34 next May.
Not that Carter seems too concerned about it. At this stage in his career, simply being back on the field and playing is enough.
"I tell everybody, I count my blessings every day especially with this type of injury," Carter said. "Some guys would probably hang it up. I came across guys that just pushed through, and I knew I could overcome it."
It wasn't easy.
The torn quadriceps muscle he sustained against Denver on Dec. 18, 2011, required eight months of immobilization followed by extensive rehab.
Carter spoke with a few teams while out of football but remained unemployed until signing with the Raiders on Sept. 27.