ALAMEDA (AP) — After waiting 14 seasons to get back to the playoffs, the Oakland Raiders are searching for a healthy quarterback to lead them into the postseason.
With star Derek Carr out with a broken right leg, the Raiders (12-4) head into Saturday’s playoff game at Houston (9-7) not knowing whether backup Matt McGloin will be able to play with a sore left shoulder or if rookie Connor Cook will become the first quarterback to get his first career start in a postseason game.
“Either way, you know you’re dealing with a tough situation,” coach Jack Del Rio said Monday. “You’re dealing with your backup — maybe your third-stringer.”
Del Rio said the key will be getting improved play from the rest of the roster. The Raiders struggled all over in their first game without Carr, a 24-6 loss in the season finale at Denver that cost them a division title and first-round bye.
Oakland’s defense put up little fight early against a Broncos team that had totaled 23 points over its previous three games. Denver marched down the field for an opening-drive touchdown, got a 64-yard run from Justin Forsett to set up a field goal and then had a 43-yard touchdown on a screen pass to Devontae Booker on a third-and-18 late in the first half for a 17-0 lead.
Stopping plays like that will ease the pressure on whoever takes snaps from center.
“Those are the ways we can help the quarterbacks,” Del Rio said. “The quarterbacks are going to give us what they have and do the best they can. And we’ve got to play well around them. We can’t expect them to come in and put us on their shoulders. We need them to just come in and do their job, and that’s what we’ll expect them to do this week.”
Del Rio was noncommittal about who would start Saturday. McGloin underwent an MRI on Monday after being roughed in the second quarter by Jared Crick.
McGloin did not play well before that in his first start in three years. He completed just 6 of 11 passes for 21 yards and missed a wide-open Amari Cooper on a deep pass in the second quarter.
“I think the magnitude and the opportunity, I think he pressed a little bit,” Del Rio said.
Cook then came on for his NFL debut and was able to move the team slightly better the rest of the way despite getting little practice time before Carr’s injury — left tackle Donald Penn said earlier in the week that it was the first time he had heard Cook’s voice in a huddle.
Cook finished 14 for 21 for 150 yards with a 32-yard touchdown pass to Cooper. But he also threw an interception and lost a fumble.
“I thought he handled himself pretty well,” Del Rio said. “You know, ball security’s so huge, that we had a couple ball-security issues. That defense is pretty good. And I thought overall that he did a pretty solid job. That’s a tough set of circumstances for him. And I thought he handled himself well given the circumstances.”
Neither quarterback got much help from a running game that produced 218 yards in the first meeting with the Broncos. Oakland ran for just 57 yards on 16 carries. Leading rusher Latavius Murray ran just five times for 11 yards, prompting second guesses from Del Rio.
“How does that happen?” he asked. “It wasn’t a great job of executing by the Oakland Raiders. That’s what it is. We own up to it, and we’re going to put it behind us as quick as possible and move forward.”
They have little time to dwell on the loss with a short week and several banged up players, including McGloin, Penn, guard Kelechi Osemele and safety Nate Allen.
But Del Rio sees no reason for Oakland’s confidence to be shattered despite the loss of Carr and the lopsided defeat.
“There are too many great examples of us being just a little bit away from it being a whole lot better,” he said. “I think when you watch the tape the way we do and show our players in the morning I think they’ll come away with confidence of what it can be. And that starts to me in the run game and obviously, run the ball and be able to stop the run, those are the two number one things.”