OAKLAND — Jared Cook has been the Raiders' most consistent pass catcher in 2018. He’s having a Pro Bowl season, and gaudy numbers make him the most popular and well-recognized tight end in Silver and Black.
He played a vital role in Sunday’s 24-21 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, but Cook’s position-mates also made huge contributions in this win.
Lee Smith and Derek Carrier caught fourth-quarter, go-ahead touchdown passes Sunday, and Carrier’s won the game. So, while Cook will get the accolades, he’s happy to share the spotlight with his fellow tight ends.
“Those guys work their tails off to be here, and to see those guys get rewarded for their hard work is great,” Cook said after the win. “It was especially great for Derek. He came wide open on that last play, and it wasn’t even supposed to be designed to him, but he was ready. He caught that thing and got in there. I’m so happy they did, I’m so happy they did.”
The Steelers were focused on covering Cook, wide receiver Jordy Nelson and some of the more prominent Raiders, leaving Smith and Carrier wide open for their respective touchdown catches.
The Raiders have become increasingly reliant on tight ends with so much turnover in their receiver corps. Amari Cooper was traded, Martavis Bryant is on injured reserve and Nelson has been banged up, so the Raiders have spread the ball around more than expected.
That’s why Smith and Carrier got involved at important times.
“Jared was awesome. He clearly is our MVP,” Gruden said. “In my opinion, he is phenomenal, and Lee caught another touchdown. We are short receivers, and I think we had four active today. We went with four tight ends for that reason, so good for them.”
Raiders tight ends have made the most of their opportunities. Smith and Carrier are more traditional tight ends, while Cook often lines up at receiver positions both in the slot and outside.
"Jared is the bell cow in our room,” Smith said. “He's the one that makes the big plays. He demands a lot of attention. We talked about it all week. If you hit him on the backside, he'll drag everybody the other way. It just worked out that way.
"By no means do I think I'm going to turn into a touchdown machine. Derek scored again today, Jared finding the end zone is a regular occurrence. I found a way to get in and help the team win. It was a momentum-shifter. It was a lot of fun, good stuff."