Instant Replay: Cook struggles as Raiders' season ends in Houston

Instant Replay: Cook struggles as Raiders' season ends in Houston


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.

Raiders retain E.J. Manuel, now have four QBs on the roster


Raiders retain E.J. Manuel, now have four QBs on the roster

The Raiders have a lot of quarterbacks under contract, certainly more than they’ll have come September.

That means the battle to be Derek Carr’s backup should be fierce. EJ Manuel had that title last year, with a shot to retain it after re-signing with the club on Thursday afternoon.

Veteran Josh Johnson signed up Monday, and those two will join third-year man Connor Cook behind Carr on the depth chart.

New head coach Jon Gruden loved Cook coming out of the draft, but the Michigan State alum failed to earn the backup job last season and must make a move up the depth chart to kickstart his career.

Manuel has a strong arm and starting experience, making him a steady and solid backup option. He completed 24-of-43 passes for 265 yards, a touchdown and an interception in two games when Carr was hurt.

Johnson might be a camp arm at this point, though he’ll be given a chance to compete this spring and summer.

Carr has been hurt for at least a small stretch in each of the last two seasons. Having Manuel in that spot might offer stability.

Gruden addressed last year’s backup quarterbacks last month at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Gruden on Manuel: “I think EJ is a young, talented guy,” Gruden said. “He’s been in the facility working out on his own every day. There is a bright upside to him, too, as a young quarterback to keep working with. He’s a free agent, but the Philadelphia Eagles proved that’s a pretty damn important position, isn’t it? Right? So we have to address that and see where we are.”

Gruden on Cook: “I am kind of surprised Connor hasn’t played in two years, other than the playoff game he got in as a rookie. After Derek got hurt last year, they turned the ball to EJ. I don’t know where Connor Cook is. I am frustrated right now that I can’t spend any time with him, but, April 9th (when the Raiders offeseason program starts) will be an exciting day for me and Connor Cook.”

Raiders sign tackle Breno Giacomini


Raiders sign tackle Breno Giacomini

The Raiders need help at right tackle, the lone vacancy along their offensive line. They signed a veteran presence on Thursday afternoon, adding 32-year old Breno Giacomini as the frontrunner to join the starting five.

He has 86 starts in 94 career games, and has been a full-time starter three of the last four years. Giacomini spent 2017 in Houston and the previous three seasons with the New York Jets.

He was a Seattle Seahawk before that, working with Raiders offensive line coach Tom Cable for three of his four years there. Cable gave Giacomini his first chance to start in the second half of 2011, and held the post through 2012.

The bond between the two is clearly strong, considering what Giacomini tweeted shortly after Cable got fired in Seattle.

Coach and player will reunite, hoping to provide steadiness on the right side of the Raiders offensive line.

He’ll compete for a starting spot with Vadal Alexander, second-year pros David Sharpe and Jylan Ware and possibly a drafted player. Giacomini should be considered the favorite unless the Raiders use an early pick on an offensive lineman.

Giacomini has plenty of starts, but his Pro Football Focus numbers aren’t pretty. The analytics says he allowed nine sacks, eight quarterback hits and 64 pressures with Houston last year. He had some decent years under Cable, and a return to that form might push him into the starting lineup for good. Time will tell on that front.