OAKLAND -- As expected, the Oakland Raiders sat most of their starters on Thursday. Only two players at the top of the team’s depth chart started in strong safety Karl Joseph and defensive lineman Jihad Ward -- the team’s first two draft picks -- and the preseason finale against the Seattle Seahawks was left to the devices of players trying to make a final push to make Oakland’s 53-man roster.
But know this: The Raiders’ second- and third-string defenses showed some passion, and, for the first time this preseason, the opposing offense did not drive the length of the field for a score on the first series. And yes, the Seahawks had their starting offense on the field for that first possession.
In what was a defensive struggle -- featuring for the most part sputtering backup offenses -- the Seahawks pulled out a 23-21 victory at the Oakland Coliseum.
Rookie quarterback Connor Cook was stopped on the 2-yard line on a 2-point conversion try that would have tied the game with just over two minutes to play, and the Raiders were unable to come up with an onside kick.
Perhaps most intriguing was the late play of George Atkinson III for the Raiders, who finished 1-3 in the preseason.
QB depth chart: As expected, Derek Carr sat and Matt McGloin got the start. But after McGloin completed four of his six passes for 37 yards, Cook took over in the second quarter and threw for 145 yards, while completing 15 of 30 passes. His costly 42-yard pick-six to former Raiders defensive lineman Ryan Robinson was his undoing. While dropping back in the pocket, Cook showed a tendency to pat the ball numerous times before releasing the pass, a la Dan Pastorini. Look that reference up from the 1980 season.
Maybe that player could start: We’ve already established that only two projected starters actually, you know, started the game: defensive lineman Ward and strong safety Joseph. And just about every other position is already spoken for, but the Mighty Mite rookie running backs, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard, put on a show as undersized but shifty runners and returners. Washington rushed for 14 yards on 11 carries, caught four passes for 39 yards and returned two kicks for 18 yards and three punts for eight yards. Richard added 10 rushing yards on three carries, caught a pass for seven yards, returned a kickoff for 15 yards and had a 25-yard punt return.
Who got hurt? Backup right tackle Austin Howard went down in the second quarter, and trainers were working on his lower right leg before he walked off the field and into the locker room under his own power. He was not seen after halftime, though. Also, Richard left with a bloodied left elbow late in the first half, presumably a victim of the baseball dirt infield at the Oakland Coliseum, but he returned in the second half. Also, linebacker Neiron Ball again did not dress. Does he get stashed on injured reserve?
A surprise player who impressed: Denico Autry, still rocking that cast on his right arm, dominated the line of scrimmage in the first half from the right side of the defensive line. Along with rookie Ward, Autry wreaked havoc while chasing Seahawks quarterbacks all over the field. Autry had a game-high six tackles with a sack and five tackles for a loss.
One reason to be concerned: That would be Howard going down, with no update from the team. He never really caught up to Menelik Watson in the battle for the starting right tackle position, but Howard is a valuable member of a retooled offensive line. He started at left tackle against the Seahawks. If Howard is seriously injured, that could mean some serious rethinking of things when it comes to paring the roster down from 75 players to 53 by Saturday’s deadline.
The anatomy of a safety: No one truly gets credit on the Raiders for the safety assessed on Seahawks backup quarterback Trevone Boykin in the second quarter on Thursday, because he was called for grounding while in the end zone. But pressure from rookies James Cowser and Ward forced Boykin to throw the ball away, hence, the penalty and, as such, the safety that gave the Raiders a 2-0 lead, which held until the third quarter. Per Pro Football Reference, only three NFL games since 1940 were 2-0 at the half: New York Giants vs. Pittsburgh Steelers in 1950, Cleveland Browns vs. Dallas Cowboys in 1970; and Los Angeles Rams vs. New Orleans Saints in 1975.
Last gasp?: Atkinson was the talk of the team after his showing in the preseason opener at Arizona, where he rushed for 97 yards and two long touchdowns on five carries. But in the preseason finale? After a rough start, Atkinson dropped a pass inside the 5-yard line on which he could have walked into the end zone for touchdown, then lost a fumble on a rushing attempt at midfield. But later, he returned a kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown to get the Raiders within 23-21 after the extra point with 1:01 to play. He finished with a game-high 56 rushing yards on seven carries, with a 1-yard touchdown plunge. Should Taiwan Jones be worried about his spot on the Raiders’ initial 53-man roster?