Oakland Raiders quarterback Connor Cook passes against the Denver Broncos in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
Sports Radio Service Writer
OAKLAND, Calif — Now that the 2016 season is in the rear view mirror, the real fun begins: the playoffs.
No matter how you got there as a team, if you happen to be one of the 12 teams that have a shot at playing in Houston on Sunday Feb. 5 in Super Bowl LI for the Vince Lombardi trophy you earned your way to the Dance.
Needing just a win in Denver in Week 17 to clinch the AFC West title, the No. 2 seed, and a first-round bye, the Raiders squandered all of it by looking lethargic and disinterested in a 24-6 loss to the Broncos Sunday knocking the Silver and Black to the No. 5 seed.
No home playoff game or week off. All gone.
By virtue of their 37-27 win in San Diego Sunday, Kansas City (12-4), captured the AFC West crown and locked up the No. 2 seed and the first-round bye that comes with it.
In the process of the loss, Oakland (12-4) lost another quarterback when backup-turned-starter Matt McGloin left the game late in the second quarter with a shoulder injury.McGloin completed 6-of-11 passes for 21 yards and was ineffective in his first start since 2013 in place of franchise quarterback, Derek Carr.
Carr was having an MVP-type of season passing for 3,937 yards, 28 touchdowns and six interceptions before breaking his fibula against Indianapolis in a 33-25 Oakland victory on Christmas Eve.
Carr headlined a league-high seven Raiders that were selected to the AFC Pro Bowl team this season.
McGloin finished the game on the sideline as he watched rookie quarterback Connor Cook taking his first snap as a pro.
Oakland had more penalty yards (90) than on offense (50) in the first half as Denver racked up 254 yards of total offense.
Cook, who may find himself starting for the Silver and Black’s first playoff game since 2002 on Saturday when the 5-seeded Raiders travel to Houston for an AFC Wild Card game, completed 14-of-21 passes for 150 yards, a touchdown, and an interception in relief.
Kickoff is at 1:35 p.m. PT at NRG Stadium.
Oakland is hoping that this won’t be the last time they travel to Houston for a big game this season, but all hands are definitely on deck.
According to a report by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Oakland is planning to sign journeyman quarterback Garrett Gilbert to the practice squad and could be active for the Wild Card game.
Gilbert, a former sixth round draft pick by in 2014 by the then-St. Louis Rams, spent all of last season on Oakland’s practice squad. Gilbert actually spent his rookie season with the New England Patriots and won a Super Bowl ring after being cut by the Rams.
The Raiders do have two dangerous pass-catchers in wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. Crabtree led Oakland with five catches for 47 yards, while Cooper hauled in four catches for 39 yards including a 32-yard catch for a touchdown in the third quarter.
Crabtree (89 catches/1,003 yards/8 TDs) and Cooper (83 catches/1,153 yards/5 TDs) became the first Raider duo with 1,000 yards in a season since Hall of Famers Jerry Rice (83 catches/1,139 yards/9 TDs) and Tim Brown (91 catches/1,165 yards/9 TDs) did it in 2001.
Latavius Murray powers an Oakland running attack that will need to bounce back after rushing for 57 yards against a Broncos’ defense that has had trouble stopping the run this season.
Murray, who led Oakland with 788 yards rushing this season on 195 carries, tied former Raiders running back Marcus Allen’s franchise record with 12 rushing touchdowns. The Hall of Famer scored 12 rushing touchdowns for the Raiders in 1990 when the Silver and Black called Los Angeles home.
When you share company with a player like Allen, who was one of the most prolific offensive players in league history, that’s saying something for Murray.
Oakland’s defense, which has been hot and cold this season, let Broncos running backs run freely for huge yardage. The backfield of Justin Forsett (22 carries for 90 yards) and Devontae Booker (14 carries, 57 yards, TD) gave Oakland fits all day, especially Booker.
Booker capped off an 8-play, 84-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown run to give Denver a 7-0 lead on the Broncos’ opening drive. Forsett’s 64-yard run (the longest run by a Broncos running back this season) on Denver’s third drive would set up a 22-yard field goal from kicker Brandon McManus that gave Denver a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Following a Raiders’ punt, Booker helped Denver stake a 17-0 lead shortly before halftime after taking a short pass from quarterback Trevor Siemian 43 yards for a touchdown.
But when you think hard about the chances for a Raiders’ victory, the more and more you got to believe that defensive end Khalil Mack and the defense will have to show up against a Houston team that has questions at quarterback of their own ahead of Saturday’s showdown in H-Town.
It’s only right since Mack is Oakland’s closer on defense, making game-changing plays in the fourth quarter when the Silver and Black have needed them.
Mack’s 11 sacks, five forced fumbles, and pick-6 has the third-year pro from Buffalo one of the favorites for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
The No. 4-seeded Texans (9-7) don’t know who will play quarterback for them Saturday. According to reports, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien is expected to name a starter Tuesday.
Newly minted started Tom Savage (5-of-8 for 25 yards) left Sunday’s game at Tennessee with a concussion and was replaced by former starter Brock Osweiler for the remainder of the game.
Savage did clear the league concussion protocol during the game, but was held out for Osweiler, who finished 21-of-40 for 253 yards and a touchdown in Houston’s 24-17 loss in Music City.
Osweiler, who signed to a four-year, $72 million contract ($37 million guaranteed) to be the Houston’s franchise quarterback after four seasons backing up future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning in Denver, had Houston in first place in the AFC South the entire year but has been inconsistent this season.
In 14 starts this season, Osweiler has thrown for 2,957 yards with 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Houston is 29th in the league in scoring at 17.4 points per game this season, and do have some play-makers of their own.
Running back Lamar Miller eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing plateau in his first year in Houston following four years in Miami. Miller had 268 carries for 1,073 yards and five touchdowns, but missed the last two games dealing with an ankle injury.
Miller is expected to play Saturday which is critical to Houston’s offense.
Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is the Texans leading receiver with 78 catches for 954 yards, and is tied with tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz for the team lead with four touchdown catches.
Houston’s defense was expected to suffer without superstar defensive end J.J. Watt, who only played in three games this season due to back surgery, but the unit hasn’t taken a step back in Watt’s absence as it finished ranked No. 1 in total defense yielding just 301.3 yards per game to opposing offenses.
The Silver and Black finished the season ranked seventh in total offense, averaging 26 points and 373.2 yards per game, albeit with Carr in the lineup.
Linebackers Whitney Mercilus (7.5) and Benardrick McKinney (5.0), along with defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (6.0) combine for 18.5 of Houston’s 31 sacks this season.
McKinney leads Houston with 129 tackles, while Clowney was named to his first AFC Pro Bowl team.
This will be the second time that these two teams meet up this season.
Oakland scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to squeak past Houston 27-20 in Week 11 in Mexico City. Houston held Oakland to just 120 yards offensively through the first three quarters.
The Raiders defense must do a better job on containing Miller this time around after allowing 24 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown to Houston’s starting running back in the last meeting.