The Raiders had realistic Super Bowl aspirations until starting quarterback Derek Carr got hurt two weeks ago now. An excellent season changed course, got caught in a tailspin and never pulled out of it.
The 2016 campaign crashed and burned on Saturday afternoon in Houston, with a 27-14 playoff loss to the Texans at NRG Stadium.
There is no next week, no shot at redemption. The cold, harsh reality set in quickly that these Raiders, who produced so many epic comebacks over the past four months but could not overcome Carr’s loss.
“When you lose an MVP, it takes a toll,” star edge rusher Khalil Mack said. “We really wanted to focus back in. You could tell it was a big hit for us.”
They kept on coming after that. Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn missed the playoff opener. Rodney Hudson got hurt during that game. Malcolm Smith and Michael Crabtree, too.
They limped across the finish, without an AFC West title or a playoff win to show for it. A 12-4 record is something to be proud of, but the Raiders wanted much more than that.
“Our season came to an end sooner than we wanted,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “We got off to such a great start. Winning 12 games is not easy to do. It just came to an abrupt end the last two weeks. We were not able to do enough as a team to carry on.”
The Raiders lost twice after Carr got hurt. They got embarrassed in Denver, which put them back into the Wild Card pool. Then came the Houston debacle, where rookie quarterback Connor Cook was forced into action.
“A lot of adversity hit us, and we didn’t handle it well,” Mack said. “You see the results.”
The Raiders refused to blame injuries for their unfortunate end, those they certain explain how a potent offense turned listless and unable to keep pace against tough teams.
That led to an early exit and a disappointing finish that hits all at once.
“It just hurts to put so much work into something, and for it to end this way is difficult,” running back Latavius Murray said. “…I don’t think we need any games to show how valuable Derek Carr is. Everyone knows how important he is. He wasn’t available today. We knew all the things we had to do to win this game, but we just didn’t do it. We didn’t get the job done.”
The offense struggled mightily for obvious reasons, and Mack left Houston upset his defense couldn’t lead after Carr went down. They didn’t make any game-changing plays in the postseason, nothing that gave Cook and the offense a chance to keep up.
“You want to finish the season a lot stronger than we did,” Mack said. “Defensively, that hurt more than anything.
“The biggest takeaway from this season is that we have got to help the offense, defensively. We weren’t able to do that consistently. That’s my fault, and I take that.”