Life wasn't easy for Connor Cook on his first ever start. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

Raiders’ longstanding weaknesses exposed by Texans in first round

The Raiders sure fooled a lot of people all those weeks, but Balls wouldn’t drink the Silver and Black Kool-Aid then and it won’t drink it now.

Pure and simple, the Raiders weren’t nearly as good as their 12-4 record in the regular season. They stole three games because of a franchise quarterback with a hot hand and a ballsy head coach with some hot dice.

See, championship-caliber teams don’t max out with four weeks left in the regular season. They don’t miss assignments and commit penalties and drop passes and commit more penalties. The Raiders did all those things and more in a 27-14 season-ender against a beatable Texans team in Houston on Saturday.

The Raiders have a convenient excuse. It’s not easy to start a postseason game with an untested third-string quarterback. Harder yet against the No. 1-ranked defense in the league.

Fact is, Jack Del Rio and his staff didn’t do Connor Cook any favors. Where were the high-percentage throws that could boost his confidence at the outset? Where were the passes to the backs, which were so effective when the Raiders beat the same team in Mexico City two months ago? After Cook took a pathetic 9.8 rating into halftime, why wasn’t the more experienced Matt McGloin given a chance?

Del Rio discussed a quarterback switch with his coaches, but they were convinced that McGloin would do any better. True, McGloin was knocked woozy in the loss at Denver the previous weekend. But if he was in uniform, then he was fit to play. Or if he wasn’t fit to play, then he shouldn’t have been in uniform.

And where, oh, where was the defense, the question that we’ve asked over and over and over again this season?

The way to win this game was to run the ball, control the clock and have the defense do the rest. After all, the Texans had the 29th-ranked offense in the league.

The Texans also have a quarterback named Brock Osweiler who plays like his initials most of the time. But Osweiler looked more like Peyton Manning in his prime, especially in the first half, when he passed for 146 yards, one touchdown and a 110.0 rating. As usual, the defense lacked a push up the middle and had zero sacks.

Call it one step forward, a half-step back.

WHAT NEXT? After an active offseason that saw general manager Reggie McKenzie fill several needs, the Raiders advanced from Point A to Point B this season. But it’s not too early to ask whether they can get to Point C with Del Rio and defense coordinator Ken Norton Jr. in their current roles.

In 10 seasons as a head man, Del Rio still hasn’t led a team to as much as a single division title. In the second half of the season, we saw one of the reasons. When Blackjack Del Rio lost his nerve down the stretch, his team lost its swagger.

It also didn’t help that the Raiders were the most-penalized team on the road in NFL history, although Del Rio tried to blame some of that on their image.

Norton has been in over his head in two seasons on the job. When his group ranked 26th in yards and 20th in points allowed last season, some chalked it up to inexperience. But this season was more of the same despite better talent — 22nd and 22nd — which left questions about his ability as a teacher and talent evaluator.

Del Rio has two years left on a four-year contract, but Norton has to go.

O-LINE WOES: While we point fingers here, let’s not forget the offensive line, which was just that — offensive.

The plan was to spread the field and run the ball. Fine. Except that Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus and company turned McKenzie’s $37.7-million pride and joy into chump change. The ground attack averaged a measly 3.0 yards per carry.

Sure, QB-killer Donald Penn (fractured knee) was inactive and Rodney Hudson (sprained ankle) sat out a few plays. But Penn was the reason that Carr and McGloin went down in consecutive weeks, so how much was the tackle missed, really?

Menilik Watson replaced Penn at the left turnstile spot. The same guy whom the Raiders drafted six spots ahead of franchise back Le’Veon Bell in the 2013 draft.

COOPER’S DROOP: Don’t forget The Wide Receiver Formerly Known As Amari Cooper, either.

In the days before the game, Cooper made it known that he wanted the ball. But when Cooper did get it to him, most notably on a deep sideline route in the third quarter, he let it slip through his fingers. The third-down drop cost his team a much-needed first down.

Last season, Cooper said he wasn’t himself because of plantar fasciitis. After he failed to catch more than six balls or gain more 76 yards in the ninth consecutive game, the former first-rounder has got some ‘splainin’ to do.

JUST SAYIN’: Never mind Bill Belichick and the rest. The Texans’ Bill O’Brien deserves to be Coach of the Year more than anyone.

This season, O’Brien guided the Texans to their second consecutive AFC South title, and he did it with one arm tied behind his back. The team has started eight different quarterbacks in that span. And three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt played all of three games this season.

WHERE HAVE YOU GONE … Rich Gannon?

Got an opinion? A gripe? A compliment? A compliment?! Send them to pladd@aol.com, and who knows, you may get your name in the paper before long.

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