NEW ORLEANS — The Raiders signed Sean Smith to be a shutdown corner. He spent the final quarter and a half of his debut Sunday watching from the sidelines.
Smith was benched after giving up a 98-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Cooks in the third quarter of Oakland’s 35-34 comeback win over the New Orleans Saints.
The man who signed a four-year contract worth nearly $40 million this offseason watched as his replacement DJ Hayden got called for two fourth-quarter pass interference penalties. It was a fairly stunning move for one of the Raiders prizes in free agency.
Coach Jack Del Rio didn’t hold back after the game, bluntly acknowledging that Smith was yanked for giving up that big score.
“He had a rough day,” Del Rio said of Smith. “He’s going to play good football for us. He’s a good player, but he had a rough day so yeah, we took him out. He’ll be back and he’s going to play well for us, but he didn’t play well today.
Getting burned by Cooks wasn’t the only play Smith gave up on a afternoon the Raiders allowed 507 yards, including 423 passing yards to Saints quarterback Drew Brees. But it was the most glaring.
Smith, at 6-foot-3, 220-pounds, has length and size to press receivers and win physical matchups. On the Cooks touchdown — the longest passing play and the longest scoring play in the Saints’ 50-year history, he never laid a hand as Cooks got to the outside and up the left sideline.
Once he got a step on Smith, the only issue was the pass from Brees. That hit Cooks in stride and it was smooth sailing for the touchdown.
Defensive end Khalil Mack said he talked to Smith on the sidelines.
“I let him know, ‘Let that go. Let those bad plays go’,” Mack said.
Like Del Rio, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said he has plenty of faith that Smith will bounce back from his rough first showing.
“I told Sean, ‘Hey man, you are one of the best corners I’ve ever played in my life’,” Carr said. “Anyone who wants to challenge that, we can go back and watch the film and see that he is a shutdown-type corner, he really is. Some days it’s going to be like that.
“It’s going to hurt. It’s going to sting. It’s going to be hard to sleep tonight. But I know him. He’s going to come back and be the same dominant guy that he his and he will be for us. … I’m not worried about him and I don’t think our fans should be either.”
* Derek Carr went flying to pick up a first down, then was promptly told to never do that again.
In the second quarter, with the Raiders facing a third-and-9 in a tie game, Carr went scrambling toward the left sideline. He knew exactly where he needed to get to and when De’Vante Harris came up to try to tackle him, Carr went airborne.
Carr somersaulted over Harris and picked up the first down. He immediately leapt back to his feet to signal the first down right along the Saints sideline.
He also immediately knew what he was going to here on the sideline.
“All the coaches, all my teammates, all the doctors, Mr. Davis, if he was down there, they said, ‘Man, that was so cool and awesome but don’t ever do that again’,” Carr said.
* The Raiders play with only seven active linemen and they needed every one of them.
Starting right tackle Menelik Watson left the game with a groin injury late in the second quarter. Then his replacement Matt McCants was carted off the sidelines in the third quarter with a knee injury. Neither returned.
This all went down while Austin Howard, the presumed top backup tackle and a 13-game starter last year, was out after suffering an ankle injury 10 days earlier in the exhibition finale.
The Raiders had to get creative and Donald Penn moved over and played his first NFL snaps at right tackle. Kelechi Osemele shifted from left guard to left tackle and Jon Feliciano entered the game at left guard.
Penn said after the McCants injury he asked Osemele which tackle spot he wanted to play.
“I was hoping KO was going to go to right, but he picked left so I had to go to right,” Penn said, smiling. “Hopefully it’s not too serious and we get those guys back because I’m not trying to play right again. But if I do, I’ll whatever it takes to win. They know I’ll do whatever they tell me to do.”
* This was the Raiders first season opening win since 2011. They became the fourth team to ever score the game-winning points on a two-point conversion in the final minute and the first to do it in an opener.
* When he stepped on the field for the opening kickoff, Sebastian Janikowski set a franchise record for seasons played with the Raiders at 17, breaking a tie with Tim Brown.