HOUSTON — Raiders coach Jack Del Rio walked down a long gray, cold hallway in the basement of NRG Stadium where his young, eager Raiders had just lost to the Houston Texans 27-14, where they had been eliminated from the playoffs. He entered an interview room but hesitated. He didn’t know where to go.
Someone pointed out a small, makeshift stage with a podium and a microphone, and Del Rio walked where he was supposed to walk. His eyes were wet. Maybe he had been crying. Or maybe his eyes get wet late in the day. And then he started to talk. And talk.
He usually is what you call buttoned-down, close to the vest. Those expressions. But now he was talkative and confessional. “We got off to such a great start,” he said of the season, his voice a lament. “It just came to an abrupt end the last two weeks.”
He lingered over the word “abrupt.” Said it several times in the next few minutes. Abrupt. What had happened to him and his team was, well, really abrupt. They were the darlings of the NFL, a young team on the rise, a young team that could — should? — win its division and get a first-round playoff bye. And then the wheels came off the car, and the car crashed into a ditch and turned over, its wheels spinning.
All because of quarterback Derek Carr, Carr with his broken leg. No blame anywhere. Just one of those things. One of those NFL things. You’re up and then you’re down.
Del Rio kept talking. “It’s just not what we want,” he said, knowing what he wanted had become impossible. “Not what we were looking for. Obviously, we’d like to continue on, and we’re not going to be doing that.”
Someone asked why he didn’t remove starting quarterback Connor Cook from the game at halftime, Cook a rookie starting his first-ever NFL game and this game a playoff game. Del Rio said the coaches discussed replacing Cook with Matt McGloin, another backup to Carr. But they all decided not to change. Didn’t think things would improve. Between a rock and a hard place. No wonder Del Rio had wet eyes.
Someone asked how Cook had played.
Big sigh from Del Rio. Monumental sigh. “I mean, it’s his first start, on the road, in a playoff game, against the No. 1-ranked defense. It’s a tough draw for him. We had hopes we would be able to do enough around him so he wouldn’t be called on to do as much. And he ended up throwing 45 times in the game. That’s not the design, I can assure you. We’d like to pass it 20, 25 times. It got out of whack there. Once you’re behind like that playing catch up, you can’t get what you want to get done.”
In other words, deep in his soul, Del Rio knew he hardly stood a chance.
Not with a kid playing quarterback.
Cook’s quarterback rating was 30, which qualifies as ghastly. He didn’t convert a third down until the fourth quarter. He threw three interceptions. A nightmare game.
The first interception was a classic of the “Pick” genre. Cook threw a pass in the left flat. The Texans’ great defensive end, Jadeveon Clowney, batted the ball up into the air, ran after the ball, kept bouncing it into the air like someone playing volleyball. He ran the ball inside the 10-yard line and, of course, the Texans scored a touchdown on the next play.