HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans had earned their standing as the top-ranked defense in the NFL, competing against quarterbacks that ran the gamut from exceptional to ineffective. Oakland starting a rookie signal caller opposite the Texans on Saturday and that provided another opportunity for them to showcase their might.
Behind a defense that smothered Raiders quarterback Connor Cook throughout, the Houston Texans cruised to a 27-14 victory over the Oakland Raiders in an AFC wild-card playoff game at NRG Stadium.
Cook, a fourth-round pick out of Michigan State, looked every bit like a third-stringer pressed into emergency duty, completing 18 of 45 passes for 161 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. With starter Derek Carr (leg) and backup Matt McGloin (shoulder) out, Cook was the lone option. The Texans, who led the NFL in total defense for the first time in franchise history, showed Cook no mercy.
"We make it difficult on a lot of quarterbacks," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "I think the guy (Cook) has a future in this league. He completed some passes and had some nice plays. We have a good scheme and more importantly than that, we have a bunch of good players. Guys that play good team defense."
Making their first postseason appearance since the Super Bowl following the 2002 season, the Raiders did not eclipse 100 total yards until their first possession of the fourth quarter, doing so on a 10-yard pass from Cook to tight end Mychal Rivera that also marked their first third-down conversion following an 0 for 11 start.
During an eight-possession stretch bracketed by their two touchdowns in the first and fourth periods, the Raiders punted eight times, produced just three first downs, and amassed 28 net yards on 28 plays. The Raiders finished 2 of 16 on third downs and averaged just 2.9 yards per play.
"It was his first start, on the road, in a playoff game, against the No. 1-ranked defense," Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said of Cook. "It was a tough draw for him.
"We had hopes that we would be able to do enough around him so he wouldn't have to do as much."
By the time Cook found some rhythm and engineered an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the fourth, Houston led by 20 points behind a solid performance from quarterback Brock Osweiler.
Osweiler reclaimed his starting job when Tom Savage suffered a concussion last week at Tennessee and he made the most of his second opportunity, passing for 168 yards and a touchdown. He added a rushing touchdown for a 27-7 lead with 12:28 to play, eluding Raiders linebacker Cory James in the open field before scrambling into the end zone. In guiding the Texans to a 20-7 halftime lead, Osweiler posted a 110.0 passer rating and did not commit a turnover. He was, for once, the picture of consistency.
"It just goes back to having confidence in my teammates," Osweiler said. "Believing in what you see and just rip it. Cut it loose and don't have any hesitation. I trust that my teammates, the skill guys, they're going to be where they're supposed to be ... and they're going to make me look good in the end."
Houston took advantage of two poor kicks from Raiders punter Marquette King in the first half, grabbing a 3-0 lead after a King 31-yard punt gave the Texans possession at the Oakland 40-yard line. Late in the first half, the Texans covered 60 yards in four plays following a 38-yard King punt, with Osweiler hitting receiver DeAndre Hopkins on a 2-yard slant for a touchdown and 20-7 lead.
Texans Pro Bowl defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was again a disruptive force, with his juggling interception of a Cook pass midway through the first quarter giving Houston possession at the Oakland 4. On the ensuing snap, Lamar Miller beat the defense to the far pylon for a touchdown and 10-0 lead.
"Great play by him," Cook said of Clowney. "Me trying to make a play in a hard situation like that, I have to be safer and not throw it away. He's a great athlete."
The Texans will face either New England or Kansas City in the divisional round next weekend.
-- Raiders PR-RB Jalen Richard produced a 37-yard punt return in the first quarter, the longest postseason punt return in franchise history.
-- DE Jadeveon Clowney joined J.J. Watt as the only Texans' defensive linemen with an interception in the postseason.
-- Raiders LT Donald Penn (knee) was inactive for the first time in his 10-year career. Penn had participated in all 160 regular season games since 2007 and started every game since 2008. He made one postseason start with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2007.
-- Texans SS Quintin Demps was lost to a hamstring injury in the first quarter and did not return. Demps was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month and led all NFL safeties with six interceptions.