HOUSTON – The Raiders entered Saturday’s playoff showdown believing they could beat the Texans in Houston, significant losses be damned.
Their confidence was misplaced. Playing the NFL’s best defense without MVP candidate Derek Carr or Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn proved too difficult, too daunting a task.
The Raiders crumbled without those crutches, ending an otherwise awesome season with a whimper.
A 27-14 loss to the AFC South champions ended their season, which took a sharp downturn after Carr broke his fibula in Week 16, and Penn suffered a knee injury the following week.
The Raiders never recovered.
They went with rookie Connor Cook at quarterback, a necessary move that didn’t jump start the offense. The fourth-round pick from Michigan State couldn’t generate an offensive rhythm, and struggled to find receivers downfield in his first NFL start.
His opportunity came with precious little prep, putting Cook in a tough spot in this postseason. He finished the game completing 18-of-45 passes for 161 yards, three interceptions and a 30.0 passer rating.
His receivers didn’t help him any, with each primary target dropping at least one pass. A once-proud offense grinded to a complete halt, generating 2.9 yards per play while going 2-for-16 on third down.
The Texans took advantage of good field position when they had it and built a three-score lead in the second half.
The Raiders cut into it midway through the fourth quarter, with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Cook to Andre Holmes. That capped an 11-play drive where the Raiders completed their first third down and were helped immensely by a defensive pass interference call, but Cook cashed in.
The Raiders got the ball back and looked to make it a one-score game, but Cook threw a pass that tipped off Amari Cooper’s hands and was intercepted by Corey Moore.
That killed faint comeback hopes that were never strong.
All that is secondary to this: The Raiders sorely missed Carr, and his injury derailed a season that seemed primed for a playoff run.
It wasn’t possible without some major players, especially the magic Carr provided late in games.
The Raiders fell behind early and never recovered.
Cook threw an interception trying to complete a third-down screen pass. He ran one way, threw the other and tossed to Jadeveon Clowney, who sniffed out the play. Lamar Miller scored a touchdown on the next play to give the Texans a 10-0 lead.
The Raiders had one good series in the first half, a five-play, 38-yard drive that ended with Latavius Murray’s 2-yard touchdown run. Murray was the catalyst there, with Cook required to complete one pass. The Raiders used an up-tempo offense in that instance, and it worked for them.
Little else did in the first half. Cook made some poor choices, held on to the ball too long and wasn’t able to establish an offensive rhythm.
Cook finished the first half completing 4-of-14 passes for 41 yards, an interception and a 9.8 passer rating.
The Raiders defense tried its best to keep it close, but gave up two touchdown drives and a pair of field goals to create a two-score, 20-7 lead that looked insurmountable with the Raiders offense scuffling.
Sitting it out: The Raiders were missing left tackle Donald Penn, who was ruled out with a knee injury. That left Menelik Watson with the tall task of slowing Jadeveon Clowney, which proved hard to do.
The Raiders operated with quarterback Derek Carr for a second straight game. They made Jihad Ward a healthy scratch with Mario Edwards Jr. and Stacy McGee back healthy.
What’s next: The Raiders head into the offseason earlier than they would’ve liked, following a loss in Houston due in large part to crippling injuries at key positions.