Houston Texans outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus (59) sacks Oakland Raiders quarterback Connor Cook (8) during the second half of an AFC Wild Card NFL football game Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
Sports Radio Service Writer
HOUSTON, TX — Make no mistake, the Texans’ defense was a big catalyst for Houston’s 27-14 victory over the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Wild Card game at NRG Stadium on Saturday afternoon as they forced rookie quarterback Connor Cook into throwing three interceptions and sacking Cook three times.
Cook, who became the first rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl era to make his first career start in a postseason game, completed just 18-of-45 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown.
Houston took an early 3-0 lead behind a 50-yard field goal from kicker Nick Novak.
Cook’s first interception came off a screen pass to running back Latavius Murray that Houston’s Pro Bowl defensive end Jadeveon Clowney snuffed out in Oakland’s territory. Running back Lamar Miller would coast into the end zone with a easy 4-yard touchdown run that pushed Houston’s lead to 10-0.
Oakland’s offense showed some signs of life by going to an uptempo offense in the first half, when Cook engineered a five-play, 38-yard drive that ended on running back Latavius Murray’s 2-yard score that put the Raiders on the board, 10-7. Murray was the bellcow on the drive, taking some heat off of Cook who only needed to throw the ball once.
Cook finished the first half completing just 4-of-14 passes for 41 yards, an interception and a 9.8 passer rating, but the entirety of Oakland’s loss doesn’t fall on the former Michigan State Spartan’s shoulders.
Just as Oakland (12-5) was adjusting to life without star quarterback Derek Carr, out with a broken fibula, Raiders’ Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn was scratched from the game due to a small fracture in his knee. The good news is that the fracture won’t require surgery, but Penn couldn’t suit up snapping a streak of 155 straight starts.
The injuries didn’t stop there for the Silver and Black.
Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson injured his ankle shortly before halftime where the Raiders were already trailing 20-7. Hudson missed a couple of snaps in the second half, but returned and finished the game.
Houston had more total yards (207) than Oakland (75) in the first half and collected 12 first downs to Oakland’s five.
Oakland’s premiere wide receiver duo of Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper were missing in action.
The combination that became just the second Raider wide receiver tandem to each record 1,000-yard receiving season since 2001 when Hall of Famer’s Jerry Rice and Tim Brown accomplished that feat, couldn’t find no separation against Houston’s No. 1 defense.
Crabtree and Cooper combined for just four catches, for 43 yards, on 17 targets (10 for Cooper and 7 for Cooper). For an offense that finished sixth overall during the regular season, managed just 2.9 yards per play while finishing 2-for-16 on third down.
Oakland was 0-for-7 on third down in the first half.
After Oakland’s first offensive touchdown of the game, the Raiders would go on to punt six straight times as the offense would sputter.
Crabtree left the game in the fourth quarter and didn’t return after being diagnosed with a concussion, was replaced by backup Andre Holmes.
On Oakland’s final scoring drive of the game with Crabtree in the locker room, Holmes would become Cook’s favorite target hauling in three catches for 37 yards, one of those receptions resulted in a 8-yard touchdown that made the score 27-14.
Holmes finished the game as Oakland’s leading receiver with four catches (on 5 targets) for 50 yards and a touchdown.
Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler completed 14-of-25 passes for 168 yards in his first start since being benched on Dec. 18 against the Jacksonville Jaguars where Osweiler was booed mercifully off the field by Texans fans.
The same fans that booed him that game, were the same fans that cheered Osweiler on this day.
Osweiler relied on a controlled passing game highlighted by a 2-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (5 catches, 67 yards, TD), and steady running by starting running back Lamar Miller (31 carries, 73 yards, TD).
Houston held the edge in time of possession, holding onto the ball for 33:29, while Oakland possessed the ball for only 26:31.
The Texans (10-7) will either travel to New England or Kansas City next week for the Divisional Round once the winner of Sunday’s other AFC Wild Card game when the Miami Dolphins travel to Heinz Field to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers at 1:05 p.m. ET (10:05 a.m. PT for us West Coasters).
For Oakland, the losses to key offensive personnel was too hard to overcome and now head into the offseason earlier than they hoped.