Last week, Jack Del Rio was asked about how much he would play the starters in this game due to the rash of injuries that have happened across the NFL this preseason. He said it had crossed his mind, but still opted to keep his starters in the game into the third quarter. And then not even through the first quarter, Menelik Watson would rupture his Achilles tendon, knocking him out for the season.
Taking over for Watson was Austin Howard, who started at right guard last season and who the coaching staff opted to switch to right tackle, which is where he played for his first four seasons with the Jets.
Even while set to make $6.4 million this season, Howard had lost the offseason battle for the right tackle job. Watson had even lost some days in camp to injury, when he returned, the job as first team right tackle was there waiting for him and Howard was once again relegated to second team reps.
Now that battle is rendered moot because it will be Howard taking over. While Watson's season is over before it began.
"Tough break for us," said Jack Del Rio. "I believe that was the only major thing that occurred for us tonight. Really unfortunate. He was having a great camp for us, played well for us. Good young man. He'll bounce back, but obviously that's a big setback."
Howard has struggled even in relief of Watson in camp and preseason. Those struggles continued today, though he was not alone. The Raiders' entire line had issues keeping the Cardinals defenders out of the backfield.
"Fortunately that's something I was able to do," said Howard. "Going on six year, kinda gotta be used to going out there wherever you can be used. It felt good. Obviously I didn't have a 100% perfect game. Gotta watch the film, make my corrections and take one day at a time."
What Howard has going for him is experience. And even though his insertion into the starting lineup is not ideal, there are worse backup situations.
"He's a pro," Del Rio said of Howard. "One of those guys who's gotten better throughout camp, so he'll be called on obviously for a much bigger role than it might have been had Menelik stayed healthy. That's part of why you have depth and competition and we're counting on him playing well for us."
The Raiders have no choice now but to roll with Howard for the season and get their money's worth out of him after giving him his big 5-year $30 million free agent contract last offseason.