Del Rio’s postseason history is more heartbreaking than his team’s
Jack Del Rio has been here before.
Three times as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, three times as Broncos’ offensive coordinator, and five times as a player with both the Vikings and Cowboys. The success, though, has been limited.
There are reasons, though, and it’s hard to blame the veteran coach and player. In his first postseason trip as a head coach, Jacksonville lost to New England, with appearances from quarterbacks Byron Leftwich and David Garrard.
Hardly the level of talent his opposition had running the offense — Tom Brady sewed the Jaguars season shut with three touchdown passes.
The Jags’ next postseason trip, during the 2007 season, featured Del Rio’s first career postseason win as a head coach, and with Garrard leading the offense to a 31-29 win over Pittsburgh and Ben Roethlisberger.
Again, though, a loss to the Patriots was how Del Rio’s season would end.
While clearly outmatched by a glut of talent, the trend is still difficult to ignore. Not that success in the NFL grows on trees, and definitely not in the postseason.
Del Rio’s coaching record is immaculate, and he’s done more than any active head coach in terms of taking mediocre talent and turning in winners. Maybe that’s why his teams have never been loaded — he’s done such a good job of cobbling enough scraps of bronze together and polishing them, too many folks want to believe that it’s gold.
And Del Rio finds himself in a position that has been all too familiar in his career: heading into a Wild Card game with a questionable quarterback situation and a strong run game, and with a defense that has been largely hit or miss with no in-between.
Del Rio’s playing career was also littered with unfortunate quarterback situations.
Aikman returned for a few plays in the divisional round, and though Dallas was loaded in almost every position group, they could not regroup after their starter went down again with a knee injury, the Cowboys losing to the Lions 38-6.
Del Rio joined Minnesota during the ensuing offseason made three more consecutive trips to the postseason. All were losses.
Three different quarterbacks made passing attempts in those three games, Jim McMahon, Sean Salisbury and Warren Moon. The two former names are generally recognizable to long time NFL fans or those invested in the league’s history.
Moon was a legend in his day, of course, and the only signal caller of the three players who put up a career worthy of a Hall of Fame look.
That’s such a brutal spot, one can only imagine how hungry Del Rio must be.
His three trips to the playoffs as Denver’s defensive coordinator were capped off by a divisional loss in 2014, which followed a Super Bowl beat down when Seattle crushed the Broncos.
Like the NFL’s version of the film ‘Groundhog Day,’ Del Rio has his guys rallying around a rookie quarterback, with other injuries hampering Oakland’s projected potential, and entering Sunday as a big time underdog.
Cook earned some kind words from Texans head coach Bill O’Brien during a conference call with local media Wednesday, a standard gesture issued by the weekly opposition whether it’s deserved or now.
It’s debatable whether Cook deserves praise, though he did man up in a very tough environment, against a very tough Broncos defense, on the road, and down a pair of stud offensive linemen.
It’s probably Del Rio’s best postseason situation as a coach, though losing Derek Carr on Christmas Eve was painful for the team, and maybe even the league.
That speaks volumes to what the long-time NFL man has endured over the last 30 years. Tough luck Chuck. Bad break Bob. No quarterback, Jack.
At some point, something has to give. It must. Because there’s only so many trips to the playoffs that end in loss, and especially the kinds that Del Rio has been a party to. He’s been outscored by 34 points in three playoff games, and every team had a similar build or situation.
His current situation is advantageous in a few ways. Houston’s quarterback, Brock Osweiler, isn’t very good by NFL standards. Houston’s offense has been lethargic as a result. And the Raiders can roll out any game plan they want thanks to the total lack of film on Cook, who is the first quarterback to ever make their first start in the playoffs.
And the Oakland run game has been a crux of their offensive success, though Carr’s arm strength and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave‘s game plans opened up the offense well, contributing to the breakout seasons of two rookie runners and Latavius Murray‘s best season.
But this still feels way too familiar. And if this is the movie we’ve all seen before, the Raiders will fly into Oakland with their hopes shredded and the offseason on display.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Raiders football.