Written by intern Jeff Weisinger edited by Malaika Bobino
The Oakland Raiders were living a dream this season. They had a top-ranked offense led by a flourishing MVP candidate quarterback, a top-ranked defense and were playing the best football the organization had seen since 2002.
When Derek Carr went down in the fourth quarter in the Raiders win against the Indianapolis Colts on Christmas Eve, that dream turned into a nightmare as Oakland got the “Autumn Wind” knocked right out of them as well as RaiderNation.
Matt McGloin was the next man up. Unfortunately after he got his chance, the story-filled season for the Silver and Black just got worse. In his first start in three years against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, McGloin lasted through the first half and threw for only 21 yards, exiting the game with a left shoulder injury.
“Well, it could have been a lot better,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said when asked about McGloin’s performance before his injury during his Monday press conference.
The fourth-round rookie quarterback Connor Cook, who might become the first ever rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl era to make his first career start in the playoffs. Del Rio said on Monday that McGloin is still very sore. If he’s not ready than Cook will go in this Saturday’s Wild Card game in Houston.
Oakland also signed quarterback Garrett Gilbert to the practice squad with the intention of activating him as the No. 2 quarterback on Saturday if Cook is named the starter. Currently, Cook is the only active, healthy quarterback on the roster.
“I thought Connor was pretty solid,” said Del Rio. “I though he handled himself pretty well. I thought overall that he did a pretty solid job for a tough set of circumstances for him.”
Although Cook led Oakland to their only scoring drive of the game, he still played like a rookie making his debut. Along with the interception, he also fumbled the ball twice, losing one, in his nine series played.
The Raiders stellar defense that dominated throughout the season was missing in action last Sunday. In fact, Oakland’s defense allowed both the Colts and Broncos to outscore them 35-6 since Carr went down in the fourth quarter on Christmas Eve – roughly 70 football minutes.
“I don’t know that I’ve seen tackling like that all year,” Del Rio said. “Just a little surprised by it. Look, it was one day. That’s the way I have to look at it, as one day. For whatever reason, we were off and we didn’t play well and we lost the game.”
If the Raiders are going to turn their playoff hopes around, they’ll need their defense to step up as they have in crucial games this year. Most notably at San Diego in Week 15 when they clinched the playoff berth.
Cook cannot be forced to put this playoff run solely on his shoulders, it’s a team effort. Del Rio emphasized that the Raiders have won as a team and lost as a team and if they’re going to get through Houston, it’ll take all hands on deck to do so.
“For us, it’s so much more important that we focus on second-and-13, not giving up a 64-yard run, third-and-18, not giving up a 43-yard touchdown on a screen pass. Those are the ways we can help the quarterbacks.”
The Texans also have quarterback problems of their own. Brock Osweiler was the starting quarterback signed in the offseason but got benched after his struggles progressed. He’s had 14 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in 14 games this season. Backup QB Tom Savage replaced Osweiler in week 15 but suffered a concussion in the season’s finale.
Houston’s coach Bill O’Brien named Osweiler the starter over Savage, who sustained a concussion in Sunday’s loss to the Tennessee Titans. Savage has yet to be cleared by the NFL’s concussion protocol and is most likely out for this Saturday’s matchup.
Oakland has a chance to catch the AFC South champion Texans off guard with Cook. There’s no significant film on Cook outside of Sunday’s game at Denver, allowing the Raiders and Cook to possibly catch Houston off-guard.
In the last five years, rookie quarterbacks have seen their share of success out of the gate. This year alone, Dallas Dak Prescott, the Eagles’ Carson Wentz and Cleveland’s Cody Kessler have all played well in their first few starts. The advantage for Cook is the talent around him, one that McGloin didn’t seem to utilize.
If the Raiders can head into this game just like they did during the regular season, they’ll have a good shot at beating a Texans team they’ve defeated once already this year. Oakland defeated Houston 27-20 on Monday Night Football in Mexico in November.
The Raiders earned the right to be in the postseason. And there’s no better place than showing up on the road where they went 5-1 during the regular season. Carr wasn’t always perfect for every game so there’s no better time than the NFL playoffs to see what team shows up.