Houston’s Brock Osweiler (17) runs past Oakland’s Cory James to score on a 1-yard keeper early in the fourth quarter. Eric Gay The Associated Press
Houston’s Brock Osweiler (17) runs past Oakland’s Cory James to score on a 1-yard keeper early in the fourth quarter. Eric Gay The Associated Press

Andy Furillo

Offering insight into the artistry of the sports world

Andy Furillo

Raiders lose battle of QB question marks to Texans

By Andy Furillo

afurillo@sacbee.com

January 07, 2017 07:34 PM

HOUSTON

The unpopular went against the untested in Saturday’s AFC wild-card game, a less-than-classic matchup of quarterbacks in which entertainment value suffered and the Houston Texans let the air out of what still should be remembered as the Raiders’ season of rebirth.

The Texans got more than enough out of Brock Osweiler, the quarterback they signed to a pricey deal in the offseason. His salary figured into the natives’ vocal denigration of his mediocre play in the season’s final month, when Houston stumbled into the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Raiders, in the postseason for the first time since 2002, endured another weekend of erratic quarterback play. It’s not the easiest thing to keep going when your emerging young star at the position, Derek Carr, breaks his leg in the next-to-last game of the regular season. The result was a day of overthrows, underthrows and intercepted throws by rookie starter Connor Cook, and their season ended with a 27-14 thud.

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There were times this season when you thought Oakland’s fast-paced offense led by Carr could go all the way. Carr connected with wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, and he was protected by a terrific offensive line and backed by a decent running game. The Raiders’ “O” had the Coliseum rocking all season. The Super Bowl became a difficult ideal to attain, however, when Carr was injured Dec. 24 against Indianapolis, and the defense did not step up.

But Raiders coach Jack Del Rio did not discount his team’s 12-4 regular season because of losses in the regular-season finale at Denver and on Saturday.

“I don’t think you can eliminate the abrupt ending that you don’t want, but I don’t think you can eliminate what we accomplished,” Del Rio said. “We had a great beginning. We won 12 of our first 15 games. We just had an abrupt ending. That can happen in this league.

“As I told them in there,” Del Rio said about his postgame conversation with his players, “this is just the beginning.”

3Interceptions thrown by Raiders rookie Connor Cook

You’d think 12-4 would get some respect against 9-7, Houston’s record. But without Carr, the Raiders went into NRG Stadium as a four-point underdog. It also didn’t make any sense that the team with the better record had to play in the other guys’ place.

Once NFL owners reject the Raiders’ plan to move to Las Vegas, they should take up the issue of giving home field in the playoffs to the team that deserves it.

Houston may have won the AFC South, but even with the divisional title, Texans fans never came around to loving Brock Osweiler much. At $72 million over four years, he figures to get over whatever bad feelings Houston folks have for him. At kickoff Saturday, their dislike of Osweiler matched the level of uncertainty rooters in Oakland held for their quarterback. Osweiler, at least, had the league’s top-rated defense to back him up.

Osweiler shored up his support with a creditable game in which he completed 14 of 25 passes for 168 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions. Early in the game, he tilted the field in his team’s favor with passes to his tight ends, Ryan Griffin and C.J. Fiederowicz. Osweiler improved his poll numbers in the Houston precincts late in the second quarter with a perfect 38-yard pass to DeAndre Hopkins down the right sideline to the Raiders’ 3. Osweiler came back with a slant to Hopkins for the touchdown, and early in the fourth quarter, his 1-yard touchdown run put the Texans up 27-7.

The way Cook’s day was going for the Raiders, you knew it was over with 12:28 to play.

Cook’s problems began in the first quarter when he couldn’t get the ball over the Texans’ terrific pass-rushing defensive end, Jadeveon Clowney. The first time Cook threw, Clowney blocked his shot. One possession later, Clowney knocked the ball up and got underneath it for an interception at the Raiders’ 9-yard line. The turnover made it easy for Osweiler and the Texans to score the first touchdown on Lamar Miller’s 4-yard run.

Things stayed ugly for Cook throughout.

I don’t think you can eliminate the abrupt ending that you don’t want, but I don’t think you can eliminate what we accomplished. We had a great beginning. We won 12 of our first 15 games. We just had an abrupt ending. That can happen in this league.

Jack Del Rio, Raiders coach

It’s not a great thing when a rookie quarterback whose first start as a pro comes in the playoffs goes against the top defense and has to throw 45 times. It’s even worse when he completes only 18. And when three passes are intercepted, all you can do is hope he learned from the experience.

“Obviously, I expected better,” Cook said.

So did the Raiders. But that was before Christmas, when their fans were sizing them up against New England. Carr’s injury took the Raiders out of the league’s upper realm and left them to play the unremarkable Texans, who took the buzz out of the franchise’s first postseason since 2002.

All that’s left for them now is the future.

Andy Furillo: 916-321-1141, @andyfurillo