Courtesy of Ed Jay/Ultimate Sports Guide
LAS VEGAS — Capping off a week filled with intense emotions and wholesale changes, the Las Vegas Raiders steamrolled the New York Giants in a 30-6 win at Allegiant Stadium. The dramatic shift in energy surrounding the team under interim head coach Antonio Pierce was palpable from the get-go.
It began on the practice field earlier in the week. The contrast between former head coach Josh McDaniels' practice atmosphere — the RC Cola version of the “Patriot Way,” and Pierce's desire for the team to have fun again was evident. Practices were filled with loud music from NWA, player chants and dances, and an overall sense of revitalization. This much-needed enthusiasm translated to a dominating performance on the field.
Rookie Aidan O'Connell, making his second NFL start at quarterback, embraced the newfound energy. He displayed remarkable poise, making precise throws and, most importantly, protecting the football. O'Connell's performance was turnover-free, completing 16-of-25 attempts for 209 passing yards.
“It’s a hard situation — what happened this week — so I think the guys felt relieved and happy and just super joyful that we could perform like this,” O’Connell said.
Interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree deserves recognition for his shrewd play calling, which played a pivotal role in the Raiders victory. The Raiders had more points in the first half, 24, than they had accumulated in an entire game this season. Hardegree's game plan emphasized protecting O'Connell and feeding the ball to running back Josh Jacobs, leading to a season-high 26 carries and 98 rushing yards for Jacobs.
“The vibe and the energy is just electric right now,” Jacobs said. “This is the most connected I feel like we’ve been as a unit.”
The chef's kiss of Hardegree's playcalling was the 17-yard touchdown run by Jakobi Meyers, a perfectly executed play that caught the Giants completely off guard. That concluded the 6-play, 72-yard Raiders opening drive that put them ahead 7-0. They never relinquished the lead.
The coup de grâce for the Giants came when quarterback Daniel Jones left the game due to a knee injury and was replaced by struggling rookie Tommy DeVito. Credit the Raiders offense for keeping their foot on the gas pedal and the defense for tormenting DeVito, who was sacked eight times and intercepted twice.
In the immediate aftermath of the Raiders 24-point victory, detractors resorted to cynicism and minimized the impact the coaching change had on this game. Many mused that the Raiders would have still won this game even if McDaniels was the head coach.
It's important to point out that the Raiders lost to an equally horrendous football team in the Chicago Bears two weeks ago with McDaniels at the helm. As we learned during the 25-game debacle that was the McDaniels era, assuming any positive outcome under his leadership is foolish.
The good vibes the Raiders felt on the field carried over into the locker room after the game. Some players smoked cigars, danced, and hugged each other in genuine jubilation. The team gathered around interim head coach Pierce, giving him their undivided attention, a stark contrast to their tangible apathy anytime McDaniels opened his mouth.
“That’s just one step, man. Y’all know how this goes,” Pierce said after the game. “This was about us. This was about you. You guys made up your (expletive) mind about what we were going to do, and we did it. … I know the coaches, the whole organization and the whole building is proud as (expletive).”
Where do the Raiders go from here? Their next challenge comes in the form of the New York Jets (4-3) next Sunday night at Allegiant Stadium. Much like the Giants, the Jets are dealing with quarterback issues of their own. They don’t know which version of Zach Wilson will show up each week. The Raiders hope they’ll see the Wilson that made the Jets insist on winning the Aaron Rodgers sweepstakes.
The Giants game served as a reminder to the Raiders of the impact that a new head coach and fresh leadership can have, a lesson learned from interim head coach Rich Bisaccia's playoff run two years ago. Great coaching and great leadership matter, and as the Raiders head into the final eight weeks of the season, their fans can only hope that lightning strikes twice.
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(Courtesy of Ed Jay/Ultimate Sports Guide)View Gallery