By Dave Thomas
Heading into their regular season finale at Denver, the Oakland Raiders knew what was on the line.
With a win over the Broncos, Oakland (12-4) would have assured itself the AFC West title and a first-round bye in the upcoming playoffs.
Instead, Oakland ended up laying an egg in the Mile High City, dropping a 24-6 contest. In the process, Kansas City (12-4) captured the division crown by virtue of its 37-27 win in San Diego. Although the Raiders and Chiefs ended up with the same record, Kansas City gets the top spot as a result of sweeping Oakland during the regular season.
Making matters worse for the Silver and Black is the fact that backup quarterback Matt McGloin went down in the Denver game with a shoulder injury. As a result, the Raiders had to turn to third-string QB Connor Cook.
The Raiders must improve when the team faces the AFC South champion Houston Texans (9-7) next weekend. What looked like a possible deep run in the AFC playoffs just a couple of weeks ago could result in a one-and-done scenario.
Oakland knew it would be tough as it was going into Denver with a backup QB to try and win the biggest game of the season. As it turned out, it was tough and then some. The Raiders having to turn to Cook (Michigan State rookie) to try and rebound after falling behind against the Broncos was too much to overcome on the first day of the New Year. McGloin finished his day (6-of-11, 21 yards passing) before being relieved by Cook (14-of-21, 150 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT).
As for Oakland’s running game against a stout Denver defense, the Raiders could only muster a team-high 43 yards rushing from DeAndre Washington. Lead back Latavius Murray was held to a mere 11 yards on the ground. When it came to the air, things were not much better. Amari Cooper had the team’s lone touchdown, while Michael Crabtree caught five passes for 47 yards. Needless to say, Oakland’s offensive output will have to increase big-time if it is to get a playoff victory.
Going up against a rather anemic Denver offense, the Raiders fell behind 24-0 before finally getting on the scoreboard. On the day, Malcolm Smith led the Raiders with 12 total tackles (11 solo), while Brynden Trawick finished with 10 total tackles (seven solo).
Despite going into Houston next weekend with issues on offense, the Raiders will face a Texans’ squad that has issues too, notably on the offensive side of the ball. The Raiders might be able to steal one on the road if Houston and quarterback Brock Osweiler (16 interceptions on the season) continue to struggle. Houston came into its regular season finale with the 29th ranked offense in the league.
Special Teams: (B-)
There were not many highlights for Oakland’s special teams unit, with punter Marquette King being the star of the show. Yes, when your punter is the main highlight, you know it has been a rough day. King punted eight times on the afternoon, averaging 62.8 yards. Kicker Sebastian Janikowski did not get a shot at any extra point attempts, with Oakland missing on a two-point try on its only score of the day.
Oakland’s Jack Del Rio knew he was going into Denver with the deck stacked against him, notably with Carr being out six to eight weeks. Although McGloin did throw for more than 1,000 yards in the 2013 season, this was certainly not his day. Having to go to Cook forced Del Rio’s hand even more, something that could turn what was a great season into a disappointing one if the Raiders lose in Houston.
There isn’t much time for Del Rio and Co. to right the ship, especially with travel involved in the first week of the playoffs. Whether he goes with McGloin or Cook at quarterback, Del Rio must summon some offensive production from his backs and receivers, something that was obviously missing Sunday in the Mile High City. Meantime, Houston is not in much better shape, with a pair of struggling quarterbacks at the helm. Backup Tom Savage left Sunday’s game with Tennessee due to a concussion. If he’s not ready to go against the Raiders, the Texans will put the ball in the hands of Osweiler.