Notable quotes from Jack Del Rio and other members of the Oakland Raiders, following the Wild Card loss to the Houston Texans.
The Oakland Raiders had their best season in 14 years, posting a record of 12-4 and making the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season.
However, their star quarterback Derek Carr broke his leg in Week 16. That forced the Raiders to start rookie Connor Cook in their Wild Card game against the Houston Texans. Both of these things contributed to Oakland’s season ending a little earlier than expected, on a disappointing note.
Head Coach Jack Del Rio acknowledged this much right after the Raiders 27-14 loss in Houston last Saturday. It’s a little disappointing to hear the way Del Rio states the season basically ended with Carr’s injury, but he means that the team didn’t step up enough around Carr once he went down. This much is clear.
"“Well, our season ended sooner than we really wanted. Got off to such a great start. Winning 12 games is not easy to do. It just came to an abrupt end the last two weeks. Not able to do enough as a team to carry on or continue on.”"
Del Rio continued to talk about the end of the season, and how things didn’t really end the way they had expected or wanted. Winning 12 games was nice, but losing Carr when they did was a huge blow to the team and Del Rio wasn’t able to bring them back from it.
"“I don’t think you can eliminate the abrupt ending you don’t want, but I don’t think you can dismiss what we accomplished either. We had a great beginning, won 12 of 15 games, so that’s outstanding. We just had an abrupt ending, and that can happen in this league.“"
He continued to talk about how proud he was of the guys, and how after years of hungering for a win they are now expecting them. Del Rio predicts big things on the horizon.
"“I’m proud of our guys for the year we put together, the effort we put forth. There’s no question about the fight and willingness to commit to what’s good for this team. I saw countless examples of that throughout the year where guys were giving it up for each other and that’s a great thing to have.” Del Rio said. “This is just the beginning. We’re just getting started. We need to learn from what we feel and the experiences we had throughout the year, both good and bad, learn from it and go forward; ready to do more.”"
Khalil Mack is a very hard working young man, and a quiet leader by example. He’s a man of few words, and is very disappointed in himself and his defensive teammates for being unable to carry the team in the absence of Carr.
"“A lot of adversity hit us, and we didn’t handle it well,” Mack acknowledged. “You see the results. Obviously when you lose an MVP, it takes a toll but we wanted to rally and focus back in.”"
Mack is a front-runner for defensive player of the year, a quest that would’ve been bolstered by a much better last three games. Mack isn’t happy with the way the season ended, or his role in that happening.
"“You definitely want to finish the season a lot stronger than we did,” he said. “At the same time, defensively, that hurt more than anything. The biggest takeaway from this season is that we’ve got to help the offense, defensively. We weren’t able to do that on a consistent basis, and that’s my fault. I take that.”"
That’s leadership. And leadership on offense was missing with Carr back in California, watching the Houston game. Though I’m sure he did, he swears he didn’t feel helpless — just sad for his teammates.
"“It wasn’t like a helpless feeling, it was more sad,” Carr said. “I just feel for my brothers…it’s crazy. I haven’t missed a game in my life. Freak things happen. It’s just been weird watching my team play and not being able to help in any way.”"
Carr was somewhat impressed with rookie Connor Cook despite his struggles, and tried to encourage the young rookie.
"“He won’t ever be in a tougher situation than he was then,” Carr said. “In the playoffs, against the No. 1 defense, on paper, in football. I told him that. Said he made some great throws.”"
The rookie Cook doesn’t lack for confidence bordering on arrogance. But he was humble after this game and acknowledged his long road ahead before even sniffing a challenge to the alpha Carr. But he sounds like he’s willing to work to get to that level.
"“I expected to be better,” Cook said. “I got pressured a little and it got to me sometimes, that falls on me. There were a few times I held on to the ball too long. I need to get it out of my hands and check to the backs. Stuff like that I can improve on.”"
I’m sure he will, as Matt McGloin is an unrestricted free agent and on his way out the door after blowing his only chance this season. If he hits a wide open Amari Cooper for a TD, who knows? he didn’t and became,as Vic Tafur stated, “instantly dead to Del Rio.” Yikes. Cook is likely back as the true backup next year, with reps and all. He should only improve from here.
Despite the disappointing ending, players and coaches alike are aware that something special is brewing with the Raiders and didn’t dismiss the accomplishments of their first successful season in quite some time. That stemmed from Del Rio’s belief in his players, beginning with the two-point game winner in New Orleans.
"“Jack told us ‘hey, it’s about the process. Don’t forget how we won in Week 1,” veteran long-snapper Jon Condo said. “We wouldn’t look ahead to games three or four weeks away. It was a great season, it was fun.”"
Condo appreciates this more than most. He’s suffered through more losing with the Raiders than anyone but Sebastian Janikowski, and was often their only pro-bowl representative during lean talent years. He knows how rare and special these seasons can be, even when they end badly.
The Raiders will be going into the 2017 with a new offensive coordinator though. Despite running a top 10 offense all season, coach Bill Musgrave never let it loose. Fans and players alike felt disappointed with his conservative play calling in the wild-card game.
Surprisingly, embattled defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. is sticking around, much to the delight of Bruch Irvin and other Raiders defenders.
Interesting choice — top offense that exceeds expectations, fire the coach. Low ranking defense that played below expectations — give that man an extension!
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On paper it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but Musgrave was holding this offense back. Norton Jr. is loved by his players and has little coordinator experience. On paper it’s not a good move – in a football sense it works well.
There hasn’t been a lot of talk in the media about it and no direct quotes as of this writing, but the rumor is that newly promoted quarterbacks coach Todd Downing was a hot commodity this offseason with multiple job offers. Del Rio didn’t want to lose him, so he made a choice. Downing has been instrumental in Carr’s improvement. This is, by all appearances, a good move — and best of luck to Musgrave, who’s a solid guy and a good coach who will work again.
This is the second time Del Rio has not retained Musgrave. It wasn’t just Musgrave, though. Defensive backs coordinator Marcus Robertson got let go as well. David Amerson greatly regressed. Sean Smith was a major disappointment. The secondary, aside from some big plays and the promise of Karl Joseph, was pretty terrible.
The offense wasn’t an issue during the season. Coverage and giving up big plays were, and Robertson’s release is no surprise. Del Rio repeatedly called out the secondary throughout the season, and didn’t mince words once it ended.
"“Explosive plays, whether you like it or not, they always come back to the secondary,” Del Rio stated. “Even if you have a front that’s full of holes, the backfield has a chance to cap the play before it goes explosive.”"
He continued on, talking about defensive backs and how difficult their job is and how exposed they are on the field. Because they are the last line of defense, he’s adamant they need to get better. They do, particularly in the positioning and discipline departments.
"“Runs that get out big time typically have to do with missed tackles, poor leverage, missed assignments, something along those lines. In the back end, obviously balls go over your head, missed tackles, missed assignments lead to long passes. You’re out there, the guy gets behind you and everybody in the stadium can see it. There’s really no sugarcoating that.”"
Even if there was, Del Rio wouldn’t bother. Just not his style. Carr’s style is optimism, and he’s spreading it even now as he’s healing from a broken leg and recovering from a loss he was unable to contribute in.
"“I’m super excited,” Carr said. “We should have a good majority of our guys back. I’m going to work my tail off to be better next year. That’s the mind-set our whole team has. When you have a group of guys that won 12 games, and don’t care about that, just want to be better, then we’re going to be alright.”"
Raider Nation certainly hopes so.