HOUSTON — Even in a no-excuse league, sometimes there are too many losses to overcome.
The Oakland Raiders were nowhere near the same team without quarterback Derek Carr and their first trip to the postseason since 2002 came to a crashing halt with Saturday’s 27-14 loss to the Houston Texans in an AFC wild-card playoff game.
“It got off to such a great start,” coach Jack Del Rio said of the Raiders’ 12-4 regular season. “Winning 12 games is not easy to do, but just came to an abrupt end. The last two weeks, not able to do enough as a team to carry on and continue on.”
The Texans advance to the divisional round to face either the top-seeded New England Patriots or No. 2 Kansas City Chiefs, while the Raiders will lament how things may have been different if it weren’t for injuries to Carr, as well as left tackle Donald Penn.
“It didn’t help. It certainly didn’t help,” Del Rio said of the crucial injuries. “But the way all competitors look at it is we’re going to do what we can with who we have and expect to succeed.”
Connor Cook looked the part of the first rookie quarterback of the Super Bowl era to make his starting debut in a playoff game. He completed just 18 of 45 passes for 161 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions and finished with a passer rating of 30.0.
“I think sometimes I just tried to do a little bit too much out there,” Cook said. “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.”
Cook didn’t receive a whole lot of help either. There were several dropped passes by receivers, an Achilles’ heel all season long for an otherwise explosive offense. And the Raiders defense allowed much-maligned Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler to play efficient turnover-free football and play plenty well enough to win.
“We can’t make any excuses,” Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack said. “Obviously Houston was the better team today.”
Asked if Saturday’s game showed just how valuable Carr was, Mack agreed, but also pointed the blame right back at the defense and himself.
“We need to step up and carry the team defensively, and we weren’t able to do that,” Mack said. “You’ve got to help your offense. We weren’t able to do that on a consistent basis, and that’s my fault.”
Del Rio’s hopes for escaping Houston with a win were rooted in winning the turnover battle and effectively running the ball. There were a big 0-for-2. The team that tied for the league lead in turnover margin in the regular season was minus-three on Saturday, while generating just 64 yards on 21 rush attempts.
The Raiders were behind the eight ball early thanks to a turnover. Trailing 3-0 in the first quarter and backed into a third-and-12 situation, Cook tried to flip a screen pass to Latavius Murray. But Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the former No. 1 overall pick, read the play like a book and batted the pass up in the air twice before hauling in the interception. Lamar Miller scored on a 4-yard touchdown run a play later.
“It was a great play by him,” Cook said of Clowney. “Me, trying to make a play in a hard situation like that, I just have to be safe and throw it away. He’s a great athlete and he made a great play on it, but I have to be safe.”
The Raiders eventually got a spark from Jalen Richard, whose franchise playoff record 37-yard punt return in the late in the first quarter gave Oakland its first great field position at the Houston 38-yard line. Murray carried four times for 27 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown run that made it 10-7.
The defense got a three-and-out, but the offense couldn’t do anything with it. Houston added to its lead with a field goal, and after two straight three-and-outs by the Raiders offense, the Texans delivered a killer scoring drive just before halftime. Osweiler hit DeAndre Hopkins for a big 38-yard completion and then connected again for a 2-yard touchdown that made it 20-7 at halftime.
Del Rio still had hope knowing Oakland would get the ball to start the second half.
“We thought if we could just get a spark and get started, we could take off and go from there,” he said.
That never happened, as the third quarter turned into a punt fest, and Osweiler scored on a 1-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.
Cook did lead a scoring drive, capped by an 8-yard touchdown pass to Andre Holmes, but his next two possessions ended with interceptions and the Raiders were getting ready to pack for the offseason.
The league doesn’t allow for dwelling on it, but the Raiders will always feel like this postseason could’ve been different with them a full strength.
“We’re not making excuses,” cornerback David Amerson said. “But they know, at full strength, ain’t nobody in the league’s touching us.”
Oakland 7 0 0 7—14
Houston 10 10 0 7—27
HOU—Novak 50 yard field goal, 7:57.
HOU—L.Miller 4 yard rush (Novak kick), 6:16.
OAK—L.Murray 2 yard rush (Janikowski kick), 1:01.
HOU—Novak 38 yard field goal, 8:43.
HOU—De.Hopkins 2 yard pass from Osweiler (Novak kick), 1:20.
HOU—Osweiler 1 yard rush (Novak kick), 12:28.
OAK—A.Holmes 8 yard pass from C.Cook (Janikowski kick), 8:10.
First Downs 16 19
Total Net Yards 203 291
Rushes-Yds 21-64 44-123
Passing 139 168
Sacked-Yds Lost 3-22 0-0
Comp-Att-Int 18-45-3 14-25-0
Punts 10-45.7 9-46.0
Punt Returns 6-70 4-23
Kickoff Returns 3-61 3-46
Interceptions Ret. 0-0 3-29
Penalties-Yards 8-63 7-65
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 3-0
Time of Poss. 26:31 33:29
RUSHING—OAK, L.Murray 12-39, De.Washington 4-16, Olawale 1-6, Richard 3-3, A.Cooper 1-0. HOU, L.Miller 31-73, J.Grimes 4-30, Osweiler 6-15, Blue 2-4, Prosch 1-1.
PASSING—OAK, C.Cook 18-45-3-161. HOU, Osweiler 14-25-0-168.
RECEIVING—OAK, A.Holmes 4-50, Rivera 4-31, Crabtree 2-33, Walford 2-16, A.Cooper 2-10, Richard 2-8, L.Murray 1-12, S.Roberts 1-1. HOU, De.Hopkins 5-67, W.Fuller 4-37, R.Griffin 3-29, Fiedorowicz 2-35.
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