written by intern Jeff Weisinger edited by Malaika Bobino
An unforgettable season came to an abrupt end in Houston today. The Oakland Raiders 27-14 loss to the Texans in the AFC Wild Card game was probably the worst road loss of the year.
The Raiders returned to the playoffs for the first time since the team’s Super Bowl run in 2002 that was marred by injuries. Along with Derek Carr staying home with a broken fibula, Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn was sidelined for the first time in his career with a knee injury and safety Nate Allen was out in concussion protocol.
“It didn’t help. Certainly didn’t help,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said of Oakland’s injury issues. “The way all competitors look at it is we’re going to do what we can with who we have and expect to succeed.”
However, when the next man was called to step up, the Raiders simply fell flat. The offense couldn’t get going and the defense couldn’t make stops. Everything that had worked during the season was the complete opposite of “inspired football.”
The task seemed to tall for third-string rookie quarterback Connor Cook, who became the first rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl era to make his first start in the playoffs. Cook finished the day completing just 18-of-45 passes for 161 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions.
He had next to no help from the rest of his offense as he was sacked three times while Oakland receivers dropped several passes that would’ve kept drives alive and give the Raiders a chance at an upset.
“It was his first start – on the road, in a playoff game, against the No. 1 ranked defense,” said Del Rio. “It was a tough draw for him. We had hopes that we’d be able to do enough around him that he wouldn’t be called on to do so much. I think we ended up throwing it 45 or more times in the game. That’s not the design. I can assure you that.
“It got out of whack there. Once you’re behind like that, you’re playing catch up and you’re not able to get some of the things you want to get done.”
Oakland couldn’t convert on third down, going just 2-for-16 on third downs in the game and totaled just over 200 yards (203) for the second straight game without Carr. They spent all game playing from behind without any legitimate answers against the Texans.
Cook said that the issues on third down were the Raiders “just not executing.”
“I was confident in the game plan,” he continued. “I was confident in the guys around me and that I could rely on them and I think sometimes I just tried to do a little bit too much out there at times.”
Cook faced intense pressure from the top-ranked Texans defense and the offensive line had no answers on dealing with defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and linebacker Whitney Mercilus.
“I thought they did a nice job,” Del Rio said. “They’re a good front. They’ve had a good defense all year.”
For the second time against the top-ranked Texans defense this year, Oakland’s rushing game was non-existent as the Raiders rushed for just 64 yards on the day with Latavius Murray racking just 39 yards on the ground on 12 carries. Saturday marked the second straight game that the Raiders were held under 65 yards on the ground.
“Great defense,” Murray said. “They did what they had to do.”
In their last matchup against Houston in Mexico City, Oakland ran for just 30 yards. An improvement of sort if you’re looking for a bright spot somewhere in the loss.
The Raiders lack of offensive production without Carr continued to be a struggle. Cook had his moments where he looked sharp when Oakland ran the no-huddle offense. On their first drive running the no-huddle, the Raiders drove down the field smoothly scoring a touchdown in the first quarter on a short two-yard run by Murray to cut Houston’s early lead to 10-7.
The drive was set up by a 37-yard punt return by rookie running back Jalen Richard who broke a tackle, bouncing the return out toward the sideline before being forced out by Texans punter Shane Lechler.
“When anybody makes a play and gives a team a spark, obviously you want to take that momentum in to score,” said Murray. “We were able to do that.
Cook threw his first postseason touchdown pass to Andre Holmes with 8:14 left in the game, making the score 27-14, giving Oakland a tiny glimmer of hope. However, that glimmer faded faster than a dying star as Corey Moore picked off Cook with 4:32 left in the game. Cook threw one more interception in the final two minutes to A.J. Bouye to officially end the Raiders season.
Despite the Wild Card loss, Oakland showed immense progress from last year. The 12-4 record is the team’s best record since 2000 and they were a win away from their first division title since 2002.
“We’re just getting started,” Del Rio said. “We need to learn from what we feel and the experiences that we had throughout this year, both good and bad, learn from it and go forward.”