Notable quotes from Jack Del Rio and other members of the Oakland Raiders, heading into the Wild Card matchup with the Texans.
The Oakland Raiders head to Houston tomorrow for a pivotal wild-card game, the team’s first playoff tilt in 14 years. By now everyone knows that in Week 16 the Raiders lost their QB and leader Derek Carr to a broken fibula. Then backup Matt McGloin got injured against Denver.
It’s down to rookie Connor Cook, making his first NFL start, to man the offense in Houston.
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The Raiders played poorly in Denver while the Chiefs completed an AFC West sweep to win the division. That has the Raiders going to Houston rather than staying home for a much-needed by week for the newly minted starting QB.
There was a lot of people who felt for Carr and the Raiders, including an unexpected rival coach. Reid is a classy guy, and had this to say about Carr:
“Well, I got to know him over the Pro Bowl, and he’s a good kid,” Reid said via quotes from the Chiefs. “I’m all about everybody being healthy and let’s go have the best team win type thing. I don’t wish injuries on anybody. I’d rather have everybody out there, and let’s figure out who’s the best team that way. So, my heart goes out to him, but he’ll have a lot of good years ahead of him as he goes here.”
Carr has a special relationship with the team, and Coach Jack Del Rio. When Carr was brought up during a press conference after the Broncos game, Del Rio broke into a big smile and looked into the camera and said:
“First off, talking about Derek Carr I gotta give him a shoutout because I know you’re watching Derek.”
Carr, for his part, has maintained a positive attitude. He acknowledged that his thirst for football has left his backups somewhat behind the eight ball regarding live action:
“Once we break training camp, I’m taking 99.9 percent of them because that’s what I feel I need to prepare to play the game,” Carr said during his weekly appearance on 95.7-FM. “I say (99.9) because I don’t remember not taking a rep, (but I might’ve) so I don’t want to lie.”
The Raiders blew it in Denver, possibly still reeling from Carr’s injury. But there’s no next week now, and everyone knows that. There is no dwelling on what could have been, or feeling sorry for anything. This the NFL, catastrophic injuries happen all the time, and its next man up or you go home.
Del Rio isn’t one to sugarcoat things and leaves no room for excuses as to what happened with the division or the timing of Carr’s injury. He’s a pragmatist who is all about getting what you earn. He’s just focused on getting game ready for Houston right now.
“We’ll be ready to roll,” Del Rio said. “We’ll shift into playoff mode. That’s what we talked about, you get what you earn. We wanted to win the division but we didn’t earn that. We won 12 games and we earned a spot in the playoffs. We’re looking forward to it.”
Getting game ready for Houston requires game planning to take some pressure off Cook in his first start. Del Rio thinks that it’s not so much Cook or the offense, but the team around him that needs to step up. He’s right, based on the Denver game.
“Either way you’re know you’re dealing with a tough situation, a backup. A third stringer even,” Del Rio said in a press conference on CSN Bay Area. “For us it’s so much more important that we focus on 2nd and 13 not giving up a 63 yard run, and 3rd and 18 not giving up a 43 yard touchdown on a screen pass. Those are the ways we can help the quarterbacks. Their going to give us the best they can, and we’ve gotta play better around them.”
Black Jack is also confident in Cook, even though he hasn’t had a whole lot of live reps to prepare. That’s changed significantly this week, as Cook is now the starter and has been taking all first team reps.
“We’ll do the best we can to prepare him,” Del Rio said. “The great thing about it is he’s been here, been in our system, mentally been engaged in what we do and how we do it all year. I’m sure he’ll lean on the majority of that.
“There’s only so much you can catch up all at once. At the end of the day, you don’t try and have him go around the clock here. He wouldn’t be at his best. We’ll manage the process of preparing him and giving him what he needs. We’ll get ourselves ready to go play.”
Cook is a confident kid. Perhaps too much so, as was the knock on him coming out of Michigan State. That and a lack of leadership. However, he played with poise in his first NFL action against a very tough defense, and seems ready for the upcoming challenge.
“I was pretty calm, given the circumstances,” Cook said before Wednesday’s practice. “I know the offense well. I’ve been in the system almost a year now. It was actually fun to go out there and get some reps.”
“You just go out there and play,” Cook said. “There are nerves at the beginning, but that goes away quickly. You get hit. You get knocked down, and all that other stuff kind of goes away. Playing at Michigan State, we played in some big-time games there. I’m going to try and take whatever I did there and put it to use out there on Saturday.”
His former college coach at Michigan State, Mark Dantonio, also mentioned Cook’s big-game ability and that this game isn’t too big for him.
“He’s been in the spotlight,” Dantonio said Wednesday on NFL Network. “I know it’s an elevated level of play and it’s all relative and everything, but he’s played on a big stage and he’s had a lot of anxiety, big-game jitters and things like that and he’s played very, very well in those games. I think that’s going to serve him as well as anything as he takes this opportunity and has an opportunity play this weekend.”
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is impressed by Cook and confident with the kid because he’s been in the system all year.
“There’s definitely an adjustment phase for all staff, but fortunately Connor has been here all year. He’s been part of the process. Been pretty much just like we would with any other QB, whether it be Derek or Matt last week. We’ve had a good week. It’s been condensed. Had a good day today and we’re looking forward to having more preparation, of course, once we get down there tomorrow and even the day of the game.”
Cook has been feasting on reps, getting them in during special teams, before practice, after practice. He’s preparing very hard but also seems calm and ready to let it fly.
“I’m going to go out there,” Cook said, “let it all hang out and have fun with my teammates.”
The defense let the team down against Denver, giving up multiple big plays and making none of their own. Bruce Irvin wasn’t impressed.
“First half, we just weren’t playing assignment football,” Bruce Irvin said. “They ran everything we went over the whole week and we didn’t execute. They gassed us.”
Neither was Khalil Mack. He felt the Broncos had been a little insulted and took it out on them, and they weren’t ready to battle back.
“They were a little mad about their situation. You could tell out there on the field,” Mack said. “At this point, it’s really not an option — we have to hold our own. It comes down to defense winning championships. That’s what we know. Going against a team like that, in Houston, it will be a big challenge for us. We’ve got to step up to it.
But the attitude has shifted going into Houston. The defense knows it’s time to step up, and that they need to play their best to help out an offense that had propped them up much of the year.
“It’s win or go home. It’s nut-cutting time,” said Mack, using an expression that means it’s time to step things up. “We’re ready to go down there and have our best game of the year.”
“I definitely have a bad taste in my mouth, and I am grateful for this opportunity” Mack said. “I can’t wait.”
Del Rio is mincing no words, he’s calling on the defense to step it up and play a complete game.
“Our defense needs to step up and play at a high level,” Del Rio said. “We’ve sputtered throughout the year and had our moments, but we have not put together a complete game yet. It would be real nice to get that starting Saturday.”
As Bruce Irvin acknowledged, it must be that way because there is no next game if not.
“There is no next week,” Irvin said. “We have to leave it all out there, play all our best players. There’s definitely a sense of urgency.”