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Antonio Pierce: ‘We didn’t lose the game because of Aidan’

Updated November 20, 2023 - 3:58 pm

A day after Aidan O’Connell struggled in the Raiders’ 20-13 loss at Miami, interim coach Antonio Pierce made it clear the defeat didn’t fall on his rookie quarterback.

“We didn’t lose the game because of Aidan,” Pierce said. “Let’s get that straight.”

O’Connell completed 24 of 41 passes for 271 yards and a touchdown, but he also threw three interceptions and missed on multiple throws to an open Davante Adams. As a result, the Raiders’ offense struggled to take full advantage of the three turnovers the defense forced and the chances they had to win a close game.

Pierce, though, stuck up for O’Connell, who was making the fourth start of his career.

“It’s a team effort. It’s a team disappointment as well,” Pierce said. “It’s not on Aidan.”

Wide receiver Davante Adams agreed.

“We’re not freaking out. He’s not freaking out,” Adams said. “We just got to stay together and find a way to convert better.”

That said, Pierce said O’Connell has to be better in critical areas.

“Aidan does know he needs to take care of the ball,” Pierce said. “That’s the quarterback’s No. 1 job. And we’ll get better at that.”

Part of that is also predicated on running the ball better to take some of the weight off O’Connell’s shoulders, avoiding penalties that wiped out positive plays, and creating too many long down and distance predicaments.

It also means better decisions from Pierce and offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree to alleviate some of the strain on O’Connell to make big plays and force the ball as a result.

“It’s going to obviously be a great learning lesson, not just for Aidan but for myself in what positions we put him in and how we allow the game to go,” Pierce said. “Not to have that kind of stress on a young quarterback.”

Therein lies the fine line the Raiders (5-6) are walking as they prepare to navigate the final six games of the regular season.

History continually shows the dicey nature of rolling with a rookie quarterback. From week to week to play to play, it’s a constant learning curve.

Yet it’s imperative the Raiders get a handle on what they have in O’Connell, whose play over the final stretch will go a long way toward deciding how aggressive the club should be in pursuing a quarterback through the draft or free agency.

On the other hand, the Raiders have worked their way into contention in a wide-open AFC playoff chase in which eight teams have a puncher’s chance at claiming one of three wild-card berths.

Can the Raiders afford to go through the O’Connell learning curve if it is detrimental to their playoff objectives?

Do they really have a choice?

While Jimmy Garoppolo is guaranteed an $11.25 roster bonus for next season, the Raiders can move on from his $11.25 million salary if they release him before the fifth day of the new league year in March. That makes the veteran quarterback a fading option for next season.

O’Connell is the only viable candidate for next season on the current roster, though that viability goes only as far as his play the rest of the season.

“We got six more games left,” Pierce said when asked about O’Connell’s timeline to show he’s the quarterback moving forward. “So we’ll find out in six more.”

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

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