HOUSTON – Derek Carr’s broken fibula cast a dark cloud over Alameda when the sun was supposed to shine. It shrouded what should’ve been a glorious time, when the Raiders could revel in a season well done.
The AFC West title, a first-round bye and even the conference’s top seed were there for the taking. All fell prostrate by the wayside.
Quarterback trouble slowed a racecar once speeding into the postseason with lofty aspirations in mind. Many have written the Raiders off, even in a wild-card round game against the beatable Houston Texans.
They’ve used last week’s awful performance against Denver as evidence the Raiders can’t win without Carr.
His loss influenced that Broncos debacle. There’s no arguing that. The Raiders were still reeling from his fall and played awful.
While there is no replacing an MVP candidate, the skies have lifted some. They still aren’t a clear blue, not after Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn was rule out on Friday afternoon.
That’s yet another blow to a team already off balance, but the Raiders plan to find footing and fight back.
This is the playoffs, after all, and the Raiders aren’t about to let an opportunity slip. A young core weathered terrible seasons before this season’s return to prominence, and know qualifying for the postseason is special.
“I’m excited. This is what you play for,” running back Latavius Murray said. “It’s the opportunity we wanted from Day 1. Just because some things haven’t gone our way the past few weeks, we can’t let it determine how we’re going to go forward. This is what we wanted, and now we have it. We have to give it everything we’ve got.”
A victory in Houston seems improbable after all that’s happened lately. It is not impossible, even with Carr and Penn unavailable. The Raiders still have to play their way out of a rut.
Khalil Mack’s defense feels a responsibility to lead them out. The run game does, too.
The entire team must play better to take pressure off rookie quarterback Connor Cook, who makes his first start Saturday after spending 15 games inactive as the No. 3 quarterback.
Players don’t think that’ll add pressure to Saturday’s proceedings, though there is significant hype surrounding these postseason games. Those on the roster with playoff experience suggest everyone relax, but only a little bit.
“It’s still football game, but if you lose there’s no next one,” Raiders edge rusher Bruce Irvin said. “There’s a sense of urgency that needs to come with it this week. Guys have to be focused on their assignment and hone in on the game plan so I can be back next week talking to you all again.”
The Raiders are excited, and in a good mood heading into this game. They’re thinking upset, something rare for a 12-4 team in contention for the AFC’s top seed last week.
There’s an underdog story to be told after the past few weeks, and the Raiders are ready to give it a happy ending.
“Our spirits are high,” free safety Reggie Nelson said. “I don’t think no guys got low on themselves (after the Denver loss). They’re at home right now and we are in the playoffs. What more can you ask for? We’re worried about Houston right now. We’re in the playoffs and we’re going to have fun.”