The Oakland Raiders will make history on Saturday, but not in the way they hoped or expected.
Head coach Jack Del Rio confirmed Wednesday that rookie Connor Cook will make his first NFL start in their playoff game against the Houston Texans. In doing so, Cook will become the first NFL quarterback in the Super Bowl era to make his first start in the league in a postseason game.
Pro Football Reference did the math on this one for us (with a hat tip to The Big Lead), noting that four quarterbacks had started one prior regular-season game in NFL history before their first postseason start: Ron Jaworski, Los Angeles Rams, 1975; Gifford Nielsen, Houston Oilers, 1979; Doug Flutie, Chicago Bears, 1986; and Todd Marinovich, Los Angeles Raiders, 1991. More recent examples of inexperienced starters being thrust into a playoff game include Joe Webb (two regular-season starts) for the Minnesota Vikings in 2012 and A.J. McCarron (three) for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Really, this Raiders-Texans game will be between two “backups” considering that Texans starter Brock Osweiler was benched down the stretch of the season for Tom Savage. But Savage left Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans with a concussion and was not cleared in time to practice.
Cook gets his unique opportunity after starter Derek Carr’s Pro Bowl season came to an end on Christmas Even with a broken leg and when No. 2 Matt McGloin was unable to go after suffering a shoulder injury on Sunday in Denver. On came Cook against the Broncos, completing 10 of 15 passes for 150 yards with a TD, an interception, two fumbles (one lost) and three sacks in his only regular-season action.
The Raiders traded up to draft Cook in Round 4 last April, but he settled at third on the Raiders’ QB depth chart after a tough preseason (zero TD passes, three INTs) in mostly mop-up duty.
Now he gets to attack a Texans defense that allowed the fewest yards in the NFL this season and ranked second against the pass. The last time we saw Cook starting a game — another playoff game, in fact — he struggled badly in Michigan State’s 38-0 loss to Alabama a few hours up the road at the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas.
Cook and the Raiders hope this game, the franchise’s first postseason game in 14 years, turns out differently.
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