HOUSTON — No matter what happens Saturday — meaning if the Raiders lose to Houston — this season already has been a whopping success for Oakland. Underline the previous sentence in red ink.
The Raiders have been a disaster. Have not been in the playoffs since the 2002 season, and now they are in the playoffs. They are playing a January game, for goodness sake. It’s a big deal. And it’s a very good deal.
Please give Mark Davis credit. He had a vision. He understood he had to deconstruct a bad roster before he could construct a good one. He understood no team accomplishes the reconstruction overnight. He exhibited the patience and wisdom — yes, wisdom — Jed York never has demonstrated.
Mark comprehended the problem and had the patience to let the plan evolve. In the past, people made fun of Mark. But he always knew what he did not know — as opposed to Jed. Tale of Two Owners. That kind of thing.
Mark reached out to NFL giants — John Madden, Jon Gruden, Ron Wolf and Ken Herock, met with them, learned from them. They all had been successful and Mark organized his plan after talking to them. He did things the right way. He understood a team doesn’t get to be horrible overnight. And it takes even longer to get un-horrible. To shake off years of accumulated badness. Fact of life.
Mark is the reason the Raiders are where they are Saturday — in Houston in the playoffs. The Raiders are a success. The season already has been a success no matter what.
Of course, the Raiders have more to do in future seasons.
They have made a giant stride, but as they move forward, they need to make smaller strides, significant strides. Get deeper at linebacker, their secondary, defensive line, even wide receiver. Make sure the gap between starters and subs is not as great as now. Need to have better backups for Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack.
And one other thing. Defensive coordinator Ken Norton is borderline remedial.
Sorry, but that’s true. He needs to evaluate opponents’ offenses better. The knock against the Raiders all season, even before Derek Carr got hurt, was the defense’s inability to close out opponents, its tendency to let opponents linger late into the game.
Against Houston, Norton needs to shut the door on the Texans offense. That means making the Texans go three and out again and again.
Now to the game itself, a real puzzler. This will be a tough one for the Raiders even though the Texans are, in some respects — mostly on offense — a pedestrian team. But the Raiders are reduced to their third-string quarterback, Connor Cook, a rookie making his first-ever NFL start.
It’s hard to win a playoff game, especially hard for someone like Cook, even though Jack Del Rio says Cook has the right frame of mind, even though Del Rio hints the Raiders have installed some plays suited to Cook’s talents.
Del Rio’s job is NOT to let Cook or the rest of the Raiders feel the immensity of this game. Del Rio keeps telling the team that if they take away the hype, this is just another football game. But it isn’t. Because it really is a playoff game. Because the Raiders really don’t have Carr. Because the Raiders have to play an almost-perfect game to win. Can they?