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Raiders roll in Antonio Pierce’s debut, talk about ‘new beginning’

Updated November 5, 2023 - 7:43 pm

On his first day as the new leader of the Raiders last week, Antonio Pierce handed each player a blank sheet of paper. It was a simple gesture, but he essentially permitted them to vanquish everything that happened before Tuesday night and focus on the future.

From that liberation, a seed of change had been planted, and, ultimately, Sunday’s resounding 30-6 win over the Giants sprang from the ground.

Over the course of three hours of passionate football, the disappointment and strain from the past 22 months under former coach Josh McDaniels had all but disappeared.

“A new beginning,” safety Tre’von Moehrig said after the Raiders improved to 4-5.

McDaniels was fired Tuesday, along with general manager Dave Ziegler and offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi. Pierce, a Super Bowl-winning player with the Giants and the Raiders’ linebackers coach the past two seasons, replaced McDaniels on an interim basis. He immediately went to work on the psyche of the team, promoting smiles and a passion for work and imploring his players to use the sweeping changes as a reset button.

“A clean slate,” is how cornerback Nate Hobbs put it.

The sense of newness was felt from one corner of Allegiant Stadium to the other on a festive afternoon that potentially changed the trajectory of the rest of the season.

“It’s not a knock on anyone, just the energy in the building was completely different,” tackle Jermaine Eluemunor said. “Just having a swagger about ourselves and just wanting to play football and be out there.”

A Raiders offense that never got untracked under the heavy hand of McDaniels suddenly turned creative, rhythmic, up-tempo and exciting. The Raiders had not reached 20 points as an offense all season, yet with Josh Jacobs running free, easy and elusive, multiple players touching the ball and rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell playing with confidence and efficiency, the Raiders hung 24 points on the Giants in the first half.

They cruised from that point, leaning heavily on a defense that produced eight sacks, three of them by Maxx Crosby, two interceptions and surrendered just 277 yards of total offense.

O’Connell, who replaced Jimmy Garoppolo as the starting quarterback, finished 16 of 25 for 209 yards. By playing competently and avoiding mistakes, he oversaw six scoring drives and never put his defense in a precarious position.

Jacobs ran for a season-high 98 yards and two touchdowns. Eight players caught passes, including rookie Tre Tucker, who hauled in a 50-yard throw from O’Connell to set up Jacobs’ second touchdown and push the lead to 21-0.

Hobbs set up another scoring drive when he intercepted Tommy DeVito late in the first half at the Giants’ 25. Daniel Carlson kicked one of his three field goals three plays later to make the score 24-0.

Yes, it was a bad Giants team playing the bulk of the game with DeVito at quarterback in relief of Daniel Jones, who left the game early in the second quarter with a knee injury that appears to be season ending. But you have to go back to Week 10 of the 2020 season to find a more lopsided Raiders victory.

The groundwork was laid five days before when Pierce, whom his players fondly refer to as AP, crumpled up the first eight weeks of the season under McDaniels and threw it in the trash. The Raiders heard the message loud and clear.

“We write our own script,” Hobbs said. “We write our own story. Today, I think we wrote that first chapter, that first page.”

Said defensive lineman Adam Butler, who had two tackles and a sack: “When you hold onto the past, it always serves as a weight. It’s like chains holding you back. AP did a great job of getting us to let those chains go. That’s exactly what we did today.”

That was the theme throughout the week, and it included a physical, fully-padded hourlong Thursday practice, followed by a highly competitive Friday practice in which the first-team offense and first-team defense butted heads during a spirited two-minute drill period.

“You could just tell, just being out there, everyone wanted to be out there. Everyone wanted to get better,” Eluemunor said. “And just having AP just push us as hard as he can, but also just being that leader that we needed. We just need that. And the energy that he brings, you want to win for a guy like that.”

It all culminated with the kind of win that could serve as a turning point to a season.

“It’s obviously a new start,” said wide receiver Davante Adams, who had four catches for 34 yards. “We’ve got a new leader now, somebody that we can get behind.”

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

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