Manuel, Atkinson solid, but Raiders fall short

With their lead players relegated to roles as spectators, Oakland understudies held one last dress rehearsal before the Raiders cast is announced for next week’s grand opening.

EJ Manuel thoroughly outperformed Connor Cook, maintaining his grasp on the back-up quarterback spot, while both George Atkinson III and John Crockett experienced early yips, each bouncing back to post strong performances. On defense, cornerback Dexter McDonald recovered from his own early stumble to make several stellar plays.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Raiders locker room at the Oakland Coliseum.

Rookie defensive backs Shalom Luani and Breon Borders each left their own lasting impact on the Oakland coaching staff, intercepting one pass apiece. But a solid well-rounded defensive effort wasn’t enough, as the offensively deficient Raiders fell to the Seattle Seahawks, 13-10, in Thursday night’s final preseason game.

Head coach Jack Del Rio look past the loss and his team’s 0-4 preseason record, saying:

“OK, dress rehearsals are over. Next up, regular season. … Obviously, there are decisions coming up. We’ll make those decisions in the next couple of days, get our roster set and be ready to go.”

Battling for what is likely the final running back spot on the roster, Atkinson and Crockett showed rookie-like nerves early on. For Atkinson, it was a muff on the opening kickoff, pinning the Raider offense at its own 11. Two plays later, it was Crockett who fumbled, battling for a second yard.

Crockett’s fumble, though, yielded a damaging outcome, with the Seahawks gaining possession at the Raiders’ 9-yard-line. The Oakland defense held Seattle out of the end zone, forcing a 21-yard Blair Walsh field goal.

Atkinson was able to recover from his rough start to post an impressive 10-carry, 59-yard performance, adding 33 yards on three catches.

Similarly, McDonald, who was victimized in coverage for the Seahawks’ lone touchdown, came back to throw a wet blanket over his man.

With just one open running back spot coming into the game, it was on the two fledglings to give their coaching staff reason to keep them. Though he would offer no decisions on any of the closer position battles, Del Rio said that some of the night’s performances were enough to shove them onto the opening week roster:

“There will be a couple spots that will become apparent. … Also, decisions with the developmental squad — practice squad — which is an important piece.”

Though not as efficient, Crockett came back from his own early game shortcomings racking up 62 yards on 17 carries.

After stumbling to the turf near the 10-yard line, McDonald watched receiver Rodney Smith prance into the end zone for an early 10-0 Seattle advantage. McDonald did not allow another reception by his mark, recovering from lost footing again with 18 seconds remaining in the first half, to knock away what otherwise would have been a second Smith score.

Much in the same boat as Atkinson and Crockett, McDonald was in a battle for, at most, two final roster spots. And while he did comeback from and early trip to post a solid night, he didn’t leave the impact that was left by Borders and Luani, the latter of whom, Del Rio said, has developed greatly, both and special teams and within the defensive system, throughout preseason:

“He’s very instinctive. He’s really got a nose for the football.”

Said Luani:

“Every game, it gets better. You get used to it … I’m getting better each and every day. … Overall, I did good. But I’m not satisfied, I still have a long way to go.”

Manuel got the start at quarterback and all but locked up his No. 2 position, completing 8-of-12 attempts for 77 yards and a touchdown. He rotated drives with Cook, who completed 8-of-19 for 89 yards — and an interception in the game’s closing seconds.

Manuel, though, was perhaps the only skill position player that had nothing to play for, having all but locked up his spot. Said Del Rio:

“I think EJ has been ahead, I think he was most of the summer and I thought he played better tonight.”

Manuel, who has made 17 starts in his four seasons in the NFL, added:

“It feels good. This is just the beginning. … I think we have a great group and I’m really excited to see what we can put together Week 1.”

Notes

The Raiders were called for seven penalties amounting to 60 yards. … The NFL’s new replay system got as good a workout as either team with head official Clay Martin going under the hood three times. Oakland head coach Jack Del Rio lost his only review, as did Seattle’s Pete Carroll, while official-initiated review yielded a “confirmed” result. … All players present on the Raiders sideline stood for the National Anthem. … With approximately 30 players out of pads, and a separate handful playing despite assured roster spots, Thursday’s game was a battle for no more than 15 spots. On how those decisions will be made, head coach Jack Del Rio said:

“The coaches have a grade and a feel, the scouts have a grade and a feel. Reggie and I talk and work through. … It’s very inclusive. … What we want to do is end up picking the right 53 for us.”

Up next

The Raiders open their 2017 season on the road, against quarterback Marcus Mariota and the Titans. Tennessee went 9-7 last season, narrowly missing its first playoff appearance since 2008.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Raiders beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Raiders football.