LOS ANGELES: Oakland Raiders rookie Connor Cook will make NFL history on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) when he lines up for his first start in a high-stakes playoff duel against the Houston Texans.
A few short weeks ago, the 23-year-old Cook was third choice on the Raiders quarterback roster, an untested back-up still easing into his professional career since being chosen as the 100th pick in the 2016 draft.
But a cruel injury to the in-form Derek Carr — who suffered a broken leg in a December 24 defeat of Indianapolis — and a subsequent injury to Carr’s understudy, Matt McGloin, has thrust Cook into the frontline after a season spent kicking his heels.
It means Cook will be the first ever quarterback to make his first full start in a playoff game as the Raiders aim to advance beyond the AFC wildcard round at Houston’s NRG Stadium, next month’s Super Bowl venue.
Cook took his first snaps as a professional last weekend, when he replaced McGloin shortly before half-time in Sunday’s defeat to the Denver Broncos.
That cameo in Colorado saw Cook throw one interception and a touchdown before finishing with 150 yards.
While McGloin is expected to be fit enough to be on the sidelines on Saturday, Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio has opted for the healthier Cook to start at quarterback in what will be the franchise’s first post-season campaign since 2003.
“It’s really an easy option,” Del Rio said. “He played pretty well when he went in, and Matt’s hurt. We’re hoping to get Matt back healthy enough to be in a backup role, so right now that remains the question.
“We want (Connor) to just be himself and go out and do what he can do, and then want our team to go out and do what it can do.”
Cook meanwhile is relaxed about his starting role.
“I’m just embracing the opportunity, going to go out there, have fun, just let it all hang out, and obviously prepare my butt off,” Cook said. “Do what I’ve been doing all season long, and just go out there and have fun with my teammates.”
The Texans meanwhile head into Saturday’s game with similar uncertainty shrouding their starting quarterback.
Brock Osweiler, who was benched in the regular season by coach Bill O’Brien after a disappointing debut season, is back as first choice after his replacement Tom Savage was concussed last weekend.
It marks an ironic twist of fate for Osweiler, who replaced Peyton Manning as the Denver Broncos starter last season only to then be dumped by the team in favor of the veteran quarterback during the playoffs. Manning went on to lead the Broncos to victory in Super Bowl 50.
Osweiler came off the bench to replace Savage against Tennessee on Sunday, finishing with a touchdown pass, a run for a touchdown and no turnovers.
However the quarterback was seen engaging in an animated exchange with O’Brien at halftime which highlighted the simmering tension between the two men heading into this weekend’s playoffs.
“Look, it’s an intense game,” O’Brien said Wednesday. “It’s football. You’ve got competitive guys, passionate guys about the team, about winning, especially quarterback-head coach. If there was a what you would term a heated exchange, that happens all the time.”
In Saturday’s other wild card game, Detroit face a daunting trip to the 2014 champion Seattle Seahawks in the National Football Conference.
Sunday’s games see the Miami Dolphins travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers while the marquee game of the weekend takes place in the NFC where the New York Giants travel to Lambeau Field to face the Green Bay Packers.