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No-show Raiders lose game, chance to evaluate rookie QB

Updated October 22, 2023 - 4:39 pm

CHICAGO — The Raiders lost a game Sunday, a big one in the whole scheme of things by way of a demoralizing 30-12 kick to the gut served up by the hapless Chicago Bears.

But that was just one layer to the lost afternoon they endured along the banks of Lake Michigan.

Over the course of 60 minutes of atrocious football, they squandered all the momentum built by their two-game winning streak. They failed to take advantage of the softest point of their schedule against a wounded Bears team playing without starting quarterback Justin Fields. And they stumbled back below .500 and created an almost must-win situation next week at Detroit.

“It’s embarrassing,” is how defensive end Maxx Crosby put it.

But that wasn’t all.

By giving the starting quarterback nod to veteran Brian Hoyer rather than rookie Aidan O’Connell, the Raiders (3-4) squandered an opportunity to further develop and evaluate their rookie from Purdue. Hoyer was awful, finishing 17 of 32 for 129 yards and two interceptions — one that was returned for a touchdown — and failing to lead a touchdown drive.

The obvious decision was to give O’Connell the ball to start the game. But the Raiders didn’t do that, and that decision rendered their weekend in Chicago even more of a colossal waste.

“I’m not gonna second guess that,” coach Josh McDaniels said.

The way McDaniels saw it, Hoyer gave the Raiders the best chance to win. But unless you’re completely disregarding the past seven years, it’s hard to fathom that conclusion.

Hoyer was exactly what you would expect a 38-year-old career backup to be — especially one who has lost his past 13 starts dating to 2016. Of his two interceptions, the first led to a Bears touchdown for a 14-0 lead and the second — a pick six by Jaylon Johnson — pushed the blowout to 30-6.

Hoyer locked in on an overabundance of his targets at the expense of open options and overthrew others.

“The reality is, this is the NFL, and no matter who you play on Sunday, if you don’t come in and execute, then that’s what’s going to happen,” Hoyer said. “They came out and played better than we did, and that’s the result that you see.”

Perhaps, but even if the result was the same with O’Connell under center, at least the Raiders would have taken another step toward deciding whether he is a viable piece of their quarterback puzzle. The Raiders showed Sunday they are a long shot to even contend for a playoff spot. The moment Jimmy Garoppolo was ruled out with a back injury, they should have used the opportunity to get another look at O’Connell.

Hoyer represents nothing relative to the future, whereas O’Connell could be part of the solution. And with a rich quarterback draft class emerging in the college ranks, the Raiders need to figure out whether they need to be aggressive in acquiring one.

“This isn’t the preseason anymore, you know what I mean?” said McDaniels, who is singularly focused on winning games right now, not who his quarterback might be next season.

As bad as the quarterback play was, it was just one part of a terrible display by the Raiders. The Bears punished them with 173 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 38 carries, and rookie quarterback Tyson Bagent, who one year ago was playing for Division II Shepherd University, completed 21 of 29 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown.

The Bears converted eight of their 13 third downs into first downs, turned all three trips in the red zone into touchdowns, held the Raiders to 39 yards rushing and didn’t allow a touchdown until 1:14 remained.

By then, McDaniels had pulled Hoyer in favor of O’Connell. Granted, the Bears played primarily soft coverage by the time the rookie entered midway through the fourth quarter, but his 10-of-13 passing for 75 yards and a touchdown and interception was far superior to what Hoyer did. His 83.1 quarterback rating was decidedly better than Hoyer’s 37.1, too.

“When your starter’s not available, you’re trying to make what you think is the best decision for the team,” McDaniels said. “Again, I don’t put this all on one person — let’s make sure we make that clear. There’s a lot of people that can do a better job than what we did today.”

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow@VinnyBonsignore on X.

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