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.

NFL Power Rankings: Raiders lack killer instinct; brutal turn for the 49ers


NFL Power Rankings: Raiders lack killer instinct; brutal turn for the 49ers

1. L.A. Rams (3-0)
Previous rank: 2
Football can be cruel. Let’s see how the dream team survives without Talib and Peters. Our guess: well enough. The Rams are still stacked. 
2. Kansas City (3-0)
Previous rank: 4
Pat Mahomes has 13 touchdowns, zero picks and limitless potential. If only that defense would kick it up a notch. Even just a little would help a lot. 
3. Philadelphia (2-1)
Welcome back, Carson. 
4. Jacksonville (2-1)
Previous rank: 3
Bortles went for 375 yards and four touchdowns last week against New England. Then he went right back to his below-average self. When does Fournette get back?
5. Tampa Bay (2-1)
Previous rank: 1
They were first last week to make a point. We like teams that freaking go for it. Fitzpatrick plays with zero fear, which was clear after he threw three picks and still got the Bucs on the verge of a massive comeback. Hope Jameis likes holding clipboards. 
6. New Orleans (2-1)
Previous rank: 13
Maybe the Saints don’t need to play defense. Outscore ‘em like they always do. 
7. New England (1-2)
Previous rank: 6
Something’s weird in Foxborough. Maybe not forever, but, right now, the Pats are off kilter. 
8. Miami (3-0)
Previous rank: 17
Gotta move ‘em with an unbeaten record, but I just saw the Dolphins up close. Still don’t think they’re legit. 
9. Baltimore (2-1)
Previous rank: 14
Might this squad fit a Ravens mold? Great defense with an efficient, smart attack wins football games. 
10. Green Bay (1-1-1)
Previous rank: 7
Clay Matthews says the NFL’s getting soft. Let the man play defense. Or, if no defense is allowed, the Pack’s in good shape with Aaron Rodgers. 
11. Carolina (2-1)
Previous rank: 15
Christian McCaffrey is running through NFL defenses just like he did for Stanford at the college level.  
12. L.A. Chargers (1-2)
Previous rank: 9
Bolts have lost to a pair of excellent teams. They need Joey Bosa back, like, stat. 
13. Denver (2-1)
Previous rank: 11
That’s the Case Keenum we all expect. Or maybe the top-ranked Ravens defense brought the Broncos down a peg. 
14. Atlanta (1-2)
Previous rank: 12
Matt Ryan had five touchdowns and lost. Bad beat for a good team. 
15. Cincinnati (2-1)
Previous rank: 10
Bengals miss Joe Mixon already. 
16. Pittsburgh (1-1-1)
Previous rank: 16
Mike Tomlin believes a single win – which they almost blew to Tampa Bay – can turn things around. Maybe not with Le’Veon Bell chillin’ at the pad, or Antonio Brown flipping out after every loss. 
17. Chicago (2-1)
Can the Bears survive on Khalil Mack alone? Real truth: Maybe. 
18. Washington (2-1)
Previous rank: 22
This is a wonky week for power rankings. There will be lots of 1-2 teams above. I’ve pledged allegiance to Alex Smith several times in this space. That still stands. Can’t figure Washington out just yet. Maybe they’ll be as good as Adrian Peterson allows them to be. 
19. Tennessee (2-1)
Previous rank: 20
The Titans won without scoring a touchdown. With Blain Gabbert for a while and then with a Marcus Mariota playing without feeling in his hand. Again, give Mike Vrabel a medal. 
20. Detroit (1-2)
Previous rank: 28
Matt Patricia stuck it to his mentor on national television. Got Belichick to concede he got outcoached. Lions finally roared. 
21. 49ers (1-2)
Previous rank: 19
First McKinnon. Then the Ken doll quarterback. Did Kyle Shannahan step on a crack while walking under a ladder while a black cat crossed his path? Brutal turn for the 49ers. 
22. Cleveland (1-1-1)
Previous rank: 30
Baker unlocked victory fridges all across Cleveland. The Land acted like they won the Super Bowl. Maybe less for the win and more for the fact Baker’s the real deal. 
23. Seattle (1-2)
Previous rank: 26
Love, love, love that Earl Thomas said he won’t practice even with the smallest nick. Pay the man. Or trade him. Or deal with the defiance and let him get two interceptions. Either way. 
24. Indianapolis (1-2)
Previous rank: 21
Colts don’t have much talent. Plain and simple. 
25. Dallas (1-2)
Previous rank: 25
Zeke took the blame for a loss to the Seahawks. All those yards don’t matter when you let go of the football. 
26. N.Y. Jets (1-2)
Previous rank: 24
Hope Jets fans enjoyed that season opener. Could prove a rare moment to smile. 
27. N.Y. Giants (1-2)
Previous rank: 27
Saquon Barkley averaged 4.8 yards per carry. OBJ hit triple digits. Our advice is give those two the ball every freaking time. 
28. Buffalo (1-2)
Previous rank: 32
Bills secured the largest upset in 23 years. On the road, no less. Against a Super Bowl contender. With a rookie quarterback and no LeSean McCoy. That, my friends, is why they play the games. 
29. Houston (0-3)
Previous rank: 24
Deshaun Watson got it rolling a bit in this one. Don’t think the Texans will be down for long, but…0-3 is 0-3. 
30. Raiders (0-3)
Previous rank: 27
Gruden’s crew is one of three winless squads. Wow. Didn’t see that coming. This team has no killer instinct.
31. Cardinals (0-3)
Previous rank: 31
Josh Rosen got the call to start on Monday. Original plan abandoned. Yeah, it’s gotten that bad that quick. 
32. Minnesota (1-1-1)
Previous rank: 5
This is like when a great kid gets grounded. The Vikings are a really, really good team. But there are consequences for losing to the Bills. 

Jon Gruden admits Khalil Mack trade hurting Raiders in 2018


Jon Gruden admits Khalil Mack trade hurting Raiders in 2018

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders are winless after three games, unable to finish games well enough. A thin defensive depth chart partially is to blame for fourth-quarter collapses.

Coach Jon Gruden plans to rebuild his defense from the ground up, an effort that will take time.

Gruden has a long-term vision, which the Khalil Mack trade will help facilitate. The move didn’t do the 2018 Raiders any favors, a point Gruden conceded unprompted Monday, when asked about finding balance between the big picture and trying to win each and every game.

“It’s hard. I mean, it’s hard to trade one of your best players, one of the best players on a franchise,” Gruden said. “It’s hard. It’s hard on the players. We didn’t get anything for him that’s going to help us out this year. [Injured nose tackle] Justin Ellis hasn’t played. We have a lot of guys on the defensive line that are out. We have had to replace basically the entire secondary, some of the linebackers.

“We’re in the process of putting the pieces back together. That’ll be exciting. But right now we just have to continue to get ready for each game individually. Right now it’s Cleveland. They’re a football team that’s emerging. They’ve drafted a lot of good, young players. It’s starting to show on film. [Baker] Mayfield is the real deal. This young man can play.”

It remains difficult to move on from the Mack trade, which gleaned a compensation package from Chicago that includes two first-round picks.

It doesn’t help that Mack is wrecking shop in the Windy City. He has more sacks (4), forced fumbles (3), fumble recoveries (1) and defensive touchdowns (1) than the entire Raiders defense. Oakland's front has 23 total pressures, per analytics site Pro Football Focus. Mack has 20 on his own.

Those numbers, and all the losing, has made it tougher to forget that Mack is playing elsewhere. It will get easier after Gruden uses draft picks from the trade, and if the Raiders can build positive momentum this season. That hasn’t happened just yet, with another tough test coming up against Cleveland.