Head coach Jack Del Rio understood that the Oakland Raiders were traveling to NRG Stadium at a disadvantage. Already without leader Derek Carr, Pro Bowl lineman Donald Penn was a scratch due to a knee injury. However, the playoffs didn’t allow any time for excuses, as rookie quarterback Connor Cook and the Raiders took on Brock Osweiler and the Houston Texans.
Both teams would start the game with three and outs, mostly due to the superior play of both defenses. While many aficionados expected the Texans to dial up pressure on a rookie making his first start, Raiders’ defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. decided to start the game with an unusual dosage of blitz packages.
During their first drive, Cook was unable to get a first down, after being pinned inside their own 10-yard line. Marquette King then delivered an unforgiving punt, which gave the Texans field position in Raiders’ territory.
However, the defense once again stepped up, including a key second down stop by Khalil Mack on a rush for negative yards. Nick Novak would nail a 50-yard field goal, giving the Texans a 3-0 lead.
The Raiders would look to get some offense going on their second drive, but stumbled their way into a trap. Bill Musgrave dialed up a screen pass, but Jadeveon Clowney read the attempt and picked off the pass with a one-handed tip and catch.
Texans’ running back Lamar Miller then took the first handoff for a five-yard touchdown, giving the Texans an early 10-0 lead.
With their backs against the wall early on, the running backs for the Raiders responded well. Rookie Jalen Richard took the kickoff up towards midfield. After being met by a wall of Texans, he bounced outward and took the kickoff into Texans’ territory.
Cook and the rushing attack guided the Raiders down into the end zone, where Latavius Murray would capitalize on a two-yard rushing touchdown, thanks to some great blocking. On that drive, Murray had four carries for 31 yards and the touchdown.
That successful drive seemed to drastically change the momentum, as the Raiders felt they were back in the game. At the end of the first quarter, the Texans held a 10-7 lead.
The first half of the second quarter saw more stagnant offense, as way expected with two quarterbacks making their first career playoff starts. Both defenses kept the pressure up, while the running games for both teams got a constant stretch of plays.
Osweiler continually looked for his tight ends early, using the play action to set up crossing routes. His two tight ends had five catches early into the second quarter, giving them another strong drive. However, they were unable to secure a touchdown, settling for a Novak 38-yard field goal.
The Raiders received another unfortunate blow, as center Rodney Hudson went down after being hit by a falling defender. He would limp on his own power to sideline.
The Texans were able to stop the Raiders just shy of the two-minute warning, giving them another opportunity to score. Osweiler and the Texans would take advantage of this opportunity, using the passing game to gain chunks of yardage.
During the two-minute drill, Osweiler connected with Will Fuller on an 18-yard play, followed by a dart to DeAndre Hopkins for 38 yards. The Hopkins catch set up a first and goal, at the three-yard line. After Miller gained one yard on a first-down rush, Osweiler connected with Hopkins for a two-yard touchdown.
Going into halftime, the Texans held a 20-7 lead.
The Raiders were trailing in their first playoff game since 2002, but should feel some comfort knowing the second half has been their time to shine throughout this season. Without Carr, they had one more opportunity to make it count.
The defense came out strong, forcing a three-and-out on the Texans’ first possession, but the offense was unable to capitalize. Del Rio elected to remain with Cook, although his first half statistics didn’t fair that well.
Matt McGloin was seen getting loose on the sideline, but the Raiders elected to keep Cook in. To Cook’s credit, the rookie was playing with a shifted, injured offensive line. The Texans’ defensive line got constant pressure on the quarterback, sacking him three times, while also getting six tackles for loss.
Texans’ offensive coordinator George Godsey continually dialed up time-killing drives in the third quarter, playing it safe. The Texans simply did not want to make a mistake, with rushes up the middle and short check downs.
Upon playing it conservatively, Osweiler took his shot at the beginning of the fourth quarter. He used a play action, tossing a ball into the end zone for Hopkins. The pass was incomplete, but David Amerson was called for pass interference, placing it at the one-yard line.
Osweiler the used a bootleg to run it in for the one-yard touchdown, giving them a commanding 27-7 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Cook began to get some footing in the fourth quarter, establishing a connection with wide receiver Andre Holmes. He led the drive down the field, while dealing with penalties on both sides of the ball.
Upon getting into the red zone, he connected with Holmes on an eight-yard touchdown catch. On that drive, Cook connected with Holmes three different times (fourth had penalty call), for 37 yards.
With a 27-14 lead, the Texans still had 8:10 remaining in the fourth quarter. They gave the ball right back, after the Raiders’ defense was able to get a stop. With less than six minutes remaining, Cook starting showing some poise in the pocket.
After finding his open receivers, he started throwing some darts and got caught on a high throw. While trying to connect with Amari Cooper, he overthrew it into the hands of the secondary of the Texans, getting his second interception of the game.
To their credit, the Raiders never stopped battling, fighting to the last second. With under a minute left, the offense still tried hard to get any scoring opportunity. However, it wouldn’t be the Raiders’ day, as they ran out of time fighting back.
Thus the Raiders incredible 12-4 regular season was ended with a short appearance in the playoffs. Their 27-14 loss to the Texans ended their first playoff appearance since 2002.
Cook ended the game completing 18 of 44 passes, for 161 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Murray took 12 carries for 39 yards and a touchdown.
Although the Raiders did lose, Del Rio and the organization have built a tremendous base to work with, as the Raiders continue to ‘just win, baby’, during their return to greatness.