Well, that went about the way you figured it would, given the circumstances, which is why the complaints you are filing about Connor Cook this and Michael Crabtree that and Khalil Mack the other thing and Marquette King and Menelik Watson and . . .
. . . oh, you get the point. The shards of the Oakland Raiders could not approach a heavily imbalanced Houston team on its own ground, and to seek out specific blameworthies to explain the 27-14 loss to the Texans is to miss the greater points, which are these:
* Winning a first playoff game on the road is hard.
* Winning it with a backup quarterback is harder.
* Winning it with a depleted offensive line is harder still.
* And winning it against the best defense in the National Football League is harder than all those things.
Now put all those sentences together, and stop when you hear the words “I rest my case.”
This wasn’t about Cook or coaching or play calls or dropped balls or momentarily dodgy officiating – although all those shortcomings were noticeable Saturday in Houston (and the officiating was dodgy both ways). The Raiders came into Houston with a serious dose of buzzard luck, and got what unlucky and unhealthy teams get.
A right hard throttling.
These Raiders were a good light year from the team that won the day for most of the first 15 weeks. Indeed, it is as if the Texans and Kansas City Chiefs were sent a league memo saying, “Please tell us what you’d like to happen to these guys between now and the Super Bowl,” and they picked and chose the most obvious calamities.
This is not to say the healthy Raiders would have won Saturday; hell, we don’t even know if they would have played Saturday, or what they might have done between now and the conference championship. If that is your position, by all means take it with pride, but you are still specu-guessing about an alternate time line in an alternate universe. All there really is, in the final analysis, is what is before you.
But the “we were unlucky” argument works tons better than the “the league hates us” argument because it is beyond dispute that the Raiders were indeed unlucky. Even people who long ago wearied of conspiracy theories can understand the unlucky argument.
And “unlucky” covers a lot of potential “they shoulda done this instead of that”-level analysis.
The Raiders needed a better game than Cook could provide given his current level of development. They needed the early mistake and the 10-0 lead that Brock Osweiler got. They needed Donald Penn and Rodney Hudson and the inside pass rush they either didn’t get at all or didn’t get enough of.
And they needed Houston not to bring its most ferocious defense, which is better than Oakland’s and in any event would have stretched the boundaries of luck beyond their logical extreme.
They got none of those, and the result is the fallback position the Raiders will take starting tomorrow, namely:
“This was a good experience for us. We got our feet wet, we know the improvements we need to make, we’ll have our quarterback back, and we’ll be as good as anyone, health permitting.”
It isn’t a daft position to take, either. The Del Rio Raiders needed a year to un-learn losing, a second year to learn winning, and now they can devote their third year to sealing some of their lingering defensive gaps.
Oh, and finding Cook’s true skill level, or someone else’s in his place, because the one thing that even the best planning and organization cannot control is quarterback health. Carr’s broken leg is the risk all quarterbacks run, and with so few quality quarterbacks in the pipeline, nobody can afford this kind of dropoff.
Except, of course, maybe the Patriots.
But we digress.
The Raiders were handled by a better and healthier team Saturday, pure and simple. It is, however, an indisputably educational experience for a team on the come, starting with this:
Sign “lucky” and “healthy” to multi-year deals.