By Nick Avila:
It seems like just yesterday the Oakland Raiders, led by MVP-candidate Derek Carr, were on their way to an AFC West title. They were handling the Indianapolis Colts in week 16 and were looking primed for their week 17 matchup with the Denver Broncos — and the playoffs which would take place just a week later.
Then, the worst happened.
Carr gets sacked by Colts’ Trent Cole and the Raiders season will more than likely be summed up by two words: “it’s broke”. As soon as Carr looked down at the injury to his leg, which would turn out to be a broken fibula, he understood that his season was all but over.
It’s been 14 seasons since the Raiders made the playoffs. Kids have become adults and adults have become dust — alright, it wasn’t that long, but it’s felt like it.
While waiting season after season, the Raiders and their fans had seemingly found their savior savior in Carr when he was drafted three years ago. Carr and Oakland still have a bright future ahead of them, but the devastating injury has been something that’s clearly affected not only the offense, but the defense.
Since Carr’s injury, the Raiders have been outscored 35-6, which brings us to this week.
The Raiders, who own a 12-4 record have traveled to Houston to face a 9-7 Texans team. It’d be easy for Raiders fans, who all but forgot what the postseason felt like, to complain about the better record being the road team, but that’s the way it’s been since they implemented the wild card teams.
Matt McGloin took over for Carr in week 17, after being a backup for the past four seasons and was injured in the game.
Next man up. Enter rookie Connor Cook who suited up for the first time all season.
Cook was thrown into the mix and, aside from three turnovers, had himself a decent showing. He threw 14 for 21 with a touchdown and an interception, yet looked poised enough in the pocket to earn himself the nod for Saturday’s wild card game.
The wild card game will be a rematch of the teams’ Mexico City battle that took place in November.
The Raiders pulled out a 27-20 win and high-tailed it back to the states. Oakland’s run game was shut down, held to just 30 yards, but Carr let it rip and threw 31 times, had 295 yards and three touchdowns.
If the Raiders hope to win Saturday, though, they’ll need to help their rookie quarterback on the ground.
The offensive line is where it’ll all start.
The big boys up front are going to have to give him time against Jadeveon Clowney and the top-ranked defense. The Texans allow just 301 yards and less than 100 of those are on the ground.
Houston had 31 sacks this season and the Raiders O-line allowed just 18. Romeo Crennel is going to be dialing up blitzes and will more than likely be misdirecting Cook the whole game.
The Raiders defense, who missed tackles and stocked up on penalties as though they were free mints last game, will have to play better.
But, for Raiders fans, for the Texans and for the media, the pressure and attention lies on Cook.
Cook, according to ESPN Statistics Bureau, will be the first quarterback to make a debut start in a playoff game in the Super Bowl era.
But, he’s probably the best man for the job between him and McGloin. The veteran McGloin has more NFL experience, but rookie Cook has the height. Cook, on paper, is three inches taller than McGloin but it’s probably closer to four.
McGloin has been known to struggle with balls not being able to make it past the defensive line due to being swatted down. This was displayed during McGloin’s seven games (six starts) in 2013 and was shown once again Sunday against the Broncos.
Cook was a big game player during his collegiate career, leading Michigan State to wins against Oregon (Rose Bowl) and Ohio State (Big 10 Championship). Cook earned MVP honors in both those games. Cook’s last start has probably been leaving a sour taste in his mouth for over a year now.
38-0: That’s what Alabama defeated Cook’s Michigan State when they met last season in the first round of the College Football Playoff. Cook went 19 for 39 and had two interceptions.
For Cook, the winningest quarterback in Michigan State history, it was the worst loss of his career.
So, Saturday Cook will have the opportunity to have his Shane Falco “Replacements” moment.
A win would erase some football fans’ minds of that abomination against ‘Bama. A win would make Cook a Raider legend — if only for a week. A win would move the Silver and Black on to the second round of playoffs — another week to extend a season no Raiders’ fan will soon forget.