HOUSTON – Raiders quarterback Connor Cook was put in a tough spot. This year's fourth-round pick made his first start in the playoffs, against the NFL’s best defense.
Welcome to the league, rook.
The Michigan State alum didn’t lament his lot. He viewed Saturday’s postseason game at Houston as a golden opportunity. Looking back on a 27-14 season-ending loss to the Texans, it was one he sorely missed.
Cook’s stats were unkind. He was 18-for-45 for 161 yards, a touchdown, three interceptions and a 30.0 passer rating.
Those aren’t numbers Cook tolerates, no matter how adverse the circumstances.
“I looked at it like I was going to come in here and I was going to play really well,” Cook said. “I was confident in the game plan, I was confident in the guys around me and I could rely on them, and I think sometimes I tried to do a little too much out there.
“I have high expectations for myself, and to come in here and play like that is not a good feeling. I want to give my team a better chance to come out and win. But, it’s a learning experience and we just have to move on.”
The Raiders will move into the offseason wishing they could’ve gone on a long playoff run. Competing without injured starting quarterback Derek Carr and left tackle Donald Penn surely didn’t help, but the Raiders believed there was enough firepower left to beat the Texans.
There was a requirement to do so. The offensive line and skill players had to help their rookie quarterback, and put him in positions to succeed. That didn’t happen often enough.
Receivers dropped far too many passes. The run game didn’t get going save a first-quarter touchdown drive. The defense allowed too many points and didn’t make any game-changing plays. The Raiders fell down early and played catch-up all game, making Cook’s life harder than it already was.
“It was a tough draw for Connor,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “We had hopes that we’d be able to do enough around him that he wouldn’t be called to do as much. I think we ended up throwing 45 times in the game. That’s not the design. I can assure you that. We’d have liked to go into this game and pass it 20 or 25 times and run it the other 45 or 50 times. 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, done.”
The Raiders offense was stifled, and never really revved up. Cook’s 3.6 yards per pass attempt ranks third worst in a playoff game since the AFL-NFL merger, according to ESPN Stats and Info. He wasn’t able to connect deep, and threw some killer interceptions. One was intercepted by Jadeveon Clowney inside the Raiders’ 10-yard line. Another came as the Raiders were trying to make it a one-score game.
Those are the types of rookie mistakes possible when a No. 3 quarterback is thrust into the limelight without much prep. Cook said the game was a learning experience, one he wishes could’ve come with a win.
“I got pressured a little bit and it got to me sometimes,” Cook said. “That falls on me. There were a few times I held on to the ball too long. I need to get it out of my hands and check to the backs. Stuff like that I can improve on. They have very good coverage on the outside. They play good defense and the windows were tight, but that falls on my shoulders to deliver very accurate passes to our receivers.”