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Gordon: Raiders embody competitive spirit of Antonio Pierce

Hip-hop legend, entertainment icon and Raiders Nation president Ice Cube started “Sunday Night Football” by lighting the Al Davis memorial torch.

Raiders linebacker Robert Spillane all but ended it by intercepting New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson late in the fourth quarter of their 16-12 victory at Allegiant Stadium.

It was, indeed, a(nother) good day for Raiders interim coach Antonio Pierce.

“It’s just fun being around the guys, man. That’s the reason why I got back into coaching,” he said, his smile gleaming as bright as his diamond-studded earrings.

“When you walk in that locker room and to see everybody smiling, to see the celebration, to see all the hard work that we’ve done over the past several days come to fruition — it’s fun.”

The Raiders are mirroring the enthusiasm and toughness of their energetic, beloved new leader, the undrafted linebacker turned Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion who presided for the second consecutive week over a victory against a visiting opponent from Gotham City.

After all they’ve been through, they’re 5-5 and alive in the AFC wild-card race.

But more important, they’re alive inside their locker room — believing in what they can build under Pierce.

Rallying the Raiders

“I feel like everyone is responding to him really well. A.P. can relate on the player level as well as a coach,” said defensive end and team captain Maxx Crosby, the victorious locker room smelling again of celebratory cigar smoke.

“He has that different type of energy that everyone feeds into. He believes in us, and he believes in the offense. That’s all you can ask for as a coach.”

During his introductory news conference, Pierce acknowledged the obvious: that he wouldn’t be perfect in his first stint as an NFL head coach. He wasn’t Sunday by any means, and he didn’t need to be, either.

Not against this squadron of Jets.

A misplaced challenge after a first-half turnover — all of which are automatically reviewed — cost the Raiders a timeout they wouldn’t ultimately need. An accepted penalty after a third-quarter stop allowed the Jets a do-over — and with it the unrealized possibility for a fluky first down — when they were poised to punt.

But his aggression on fourth down was far more important — the Raiders converted both of their tries — inspiring with his offense the rambunctious announced crowd of 62,383. Clad barely this week in visitor’s colors and primarily instead in silver and black, it roared louder Sunday than it had during other games at Allegiant Stadium.

Raiders Nation, like the players it supports, is rallying around its interim coach, who said during a news conference filled with praise for his players and coaches: “Our fans, they kept us in the game, their energy, their passion, their support throughout — that’s what energized our guys at the end.”

Swagger and fun

But it wasn’t just the crowd that energized the Raiders. It’s also Pierce who filled that role, candidly empowering his players and coaching staff alike. His commanding presence — on the sideline, at the podium and surely behind closed doors with his players — exudes the leadership and confidence they lacked.

As does his preferred coaching outfit: A black Raiders hoodie, black pants and black Nike Air Force 1 shoes that symbolize in popular culture fearless (if not nefarious) intent.

Said Pierce of the shoes: “Raider Nation knows what that means, blacked out, stand up. They speak for themselves.”

Said Pierce of the position he’s in: “For however long I’m here as a Raider, as the head coach, we’re going to have a blast.”

So, too, are the players. So, too, are the fans.

So far for Pierce, so good.

Contact Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on X.

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