Punter Marquette King
Before the Oakland Raiders took the field to wrap up their regular season schedule against the Denver Broncos, we posed five questions that we were hoping to have answered in the Week 17 clash at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
The Raiders were bested by the Broncos 24-6, and as a result, Head Coach Jack Del Rio's squad will now travel to Houston to take on the Texans Saturday afternoon at NRG Stadium in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
However, before we officially shift into postseason mode, let's quickly review our questions, and see if we received any answers to our queries.
1. How does Matt McGloin respond to the moment?
If you ever needed more proof that the NFL is the definition of a next man up league, look no further than Sunday's game against the Broncos.
After Derek Carr suffered a broken fibula in the Raiders Week 16 game against the Indianapolis Colts, Matt McGoin entered the regular season finale against the Broncos as the team's starting quarterback. However, the former Penn State Nittany Lion only played four offensive series before suffering a shoulder injury that forced him to be removed from the game.
In total, McGloin completed six of his 11 pass attempts for 21 yards before rookie quarterback Connor Cook was called upon to finish the game.
Cook finished his NFL debut 14 of 21 for 150 yards, one touchdown, and an interception, but for the most part looked decently comfortable at the helm of the Raiders offense.
"I thought there were some positives with Connor's possession," said Head Coach Jack Del Rio postgame. "There were some mistakes with the ball security, but I thought Cook did a pretty good job for being thrown in there."
2. Will McGloin's supporting cast show up in a big way?
At this point, there's really no point in glossing over the fact that the Silver and Black squandered an opportunity to secure their first division since 2002 Sunday afternoon.
In the wake of Carr's injury, both sides of the football – but the offense in particular – knew that they were collectively going to have to step up to help fill the void left by No. 4's absence.
However, the Raiders playmakers weren't able to get going against a staunch Broncos defense, and as a result, the group was able to manufacture just six points all afternoon.
The run game – which in weeks past had been so dynamic – was only able to muster up 57 yards on the ground after amassing a season-high 218 yards the last time the two teams squared off Week 9.
"Give credit to the Broncos, man," rookie running back DeAndré Washington said. "They did a good job bottling us up, but we'll get back to the drawing board, and bounce back next week."
The Raiders running backs, along with the rest of the offensive playmakers, will have to step up in a big way next weekend against the Houston Texans if the Raiders want to keep their season going.
3. How will the Raiders defense respond to facing two quarterbacks?
Well, in yet another twist to Week 17, Trevor Siemian ended up playing all 73 offensive snaps the Broncos had Sunday afternoon.
Heading into the game, Denver had already been eliminated from postseason play, and Head Coach Gary Kubiak indicated that while Siemian would indeed get the start, he also planned to insert rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch into the fold as well.
However, Kubiak elected to ride the hot hand, and kept Siemian in for the duration of the Week 17 clash with the Silver and Black.
While Siemian's numbers might not be mind- blowing, he finished 17 of 27 for 206 yards and a pair of touchdowns – he was certainly effective, and helped the Broncos jump out to an early 24-0 lead that the Raiders couldn't put a sizable dent in.
4. Can the special teams unit make a play?
In short, not really, but it wasn't for lack of effort.
Jalen Richard only had the chance to return two punts Sunday afternoon, and he wasn't able to do much with either of his chances, averaging just nine yards per return on the day.
However, while the Silver and Black weren't able to get a huge lift from the return game, punter Marquette King did enjoy a strong end to the regular season.
The Kick Squad President punted the ball eight times in the loss to the Broncos, averaging an impressive 56.5 yards per punt, as well as pinning an even more impressive five punts inside the 20-yard line.
King was named a Pro Bowl alternate last month, and Sunday afternoon, the Raiders punter showed why he is one of the premier punters not just in the conference, but in the NFL in general.
5. Will the Raiders fly home as division champions?
After the Silver and Black fell to the Broncos, the team flew back to Oakland, but there were no division champion hats or t-shirts to be seen.
"I tell the guys all the time, you get what you earn in this league," Head Coach Jack Del Rio said. "We didn't do enough to earn a win tonight, and didn't do enough to earn an opportunity to clinch the division."
As a result of their loss, the Raiders now slip to the No. 5 slot in the AFC playoff picture, but the fact remains, they're one of just 12 teams still left playing football, and they'll get a chance to right the ship Saturday afternoon against the Houston Texans, as the Raiders play in their first playoff game since 2002.
And as DeAndré Washington made sure to say, nearly all the team's goals are still in front of them.
"All our goals are still in front of us," Washington said. "We'll have to bounce back from this one, move on, and get ready for whoever we have next."