Monday, Nov. 6, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Underneath plumes of smoke from victory cigars and bass thuds from a song by rapper Stunna 4 Vegas, Raiders edge rusher Maxx Crosby wrapped his arm around team owner Mark Davis and the pair grinned.
Sunday’s postgame scene in the home locker room at Allegiant Stadium would have never happened to cap any other contest before the Raiders’ 30-6 win over the Giants, let alone be broadcast for hundreds to watch on Crosby’s Instagram.
And that’s the whole point.
The Raiders spoke of a midseason rebirth starting in Week 9 under new interim coach Antonio Pierce and followed through on it from the moment they took the field until the time they left the venue.
“It was a blast, we had a lot of fun out there,” Crosby said. “You could feel it and that’s what we talked about; (Pierce) talked at the beginning of the week about playing with swag, letting everybody’s personality come to life and I feel like everybody played like that today.”
The cosmetic changes were evident, but so were the execution-based concerns.
They seemed to one-by-one scratch off the fan base’s biggest gripes of the team under now-fired coach Josh McDaniels with a better effort in Pierce’s debut.
It started with getting running back Josh Jacobs, last year’s NFL rushing-yards champion, going for the first time this year. Interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree called each of the Raiders’ first three offensive plays, and four of the opening five, for Jacobs, who marched the team into the red zone in three-and-a-half minutes.
“I said on the first run, ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s ugly or not, I’m going to set the tone for this game,’” Jacobs said. “Because I know if I get going, I run with a certain demeanor, it gets everybody going.”
The Raiders scored on their sixth play when wide receiver Jakobi Meyers took an end-around 17 yards for a touchdown. They never even close to trailing again, as Jacobs kept paving the way and powered in the game’s next two touchdowns before halftime.
He briefly notched his first 100-yard rushing game since Week 13 of last year before getting stuffed for a loss of three at the end of the game to finish with 26 carries for 98 yards.
Jacobs didn’t seem too torn up about missing out on the milestone.
“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. Just to go out there and have fun and celebrate after we do things good, and the defense stepping up and holding their own, it was a fun day for sure.”
Las Vegas’ defense had its best statistical game of the year, holding New York to 4.5 yards per play, but caught some assistance via injury. Giants quarterback Daniel Jones went down with a non-contact knee injury feared to be a torn ACL in the second quarter when the score was still 7-0.
New York’s offense could do nothing without him, as undrafted rookie free agent Tommy DeVito was overmatched and struggled against Las Vegas’ reinvigorated pass rush.
The Raiders had a season-high eight sacks with Crosby picking up three of them on his own. They also helped pressure DeVito into a pair of interceptions.
Cornerback Amik Robertson claimed the first takeaway at the goal line and returned it 40 yards when DeVito forced a deep ball into double coverage late in the second quarter.
Cornerback Nate Hobbs got the next interception two minutes later — after Jacobs’ first touchdown — when DeVito fired a pass too hard and too quickly to receiver Darius Slayton. The ball bounced off both Slayton’s pads and cornerback Marcus Peters’ hand before Hobbs corralled it to set up Jacobs’ next scoring plunge.
In 25 games under McDaniels the last two seasons, the Raiders were in the bottom five in the league in both turnovers and sacks. It’s another department where they felt like they had to improve, and one where they did so against the Giants.
“Pride, poise and just getting back to being ourselves,” Pierce said of his message to the team. “Everything’s that going on is in front of us, not behind us.”
Promise for the future is something McDaniels also often regularly preached, but rarely committed to displaying. Frustration had grown with how poorly he and also-fired general manager Dave Ziegler’s much-ballyhooed rookie class was performing, and how few opportunities they were getting.
That changed in the first game under Pierce, Hardegree and interim general manager Champ Kelly.
Almost every rookie who was active for the game had an impact, most notably quarterback Aidan O’Connell making his second career start and first since the announcement that he was taking over permanently for Jimmy Garoppolo.
Between following Jacobs’ lead and going up against DeVito, O’Connell didn’t have to do much but he followed Pierce’s biggest talking point of taking care of the ball. The fourth-round pick had neither a single turnover — as opposed to three in a Week 4 loss to the Chargers — nor a single sack — as opposed to seven against the Chargers.
O’Connell completed 16 of 25 passes for 209 yards, keeping the Raiders on track and consistently showcasing “poise” in Pierce’s words.
“You could tell the moment’s not too big for him,” Jacobs said of O’Connell. “He’s not trying to get style points. He just goes out there and does what he needs to do.”
To be fair, O’Connell did earn a few style points for completing the Raiders’ longest pass of the year, a 50-yard go route to fellow rookie Tre Tucker.
Hardegree called for the deep shot on the first play after Robertson’s interception, and O’Connell gave fans hope that the Raiders could now have a vertical passing game. McDaniels and Garoppolo had previously failed to establish any semblance of one.
“It was an unbelievable catch,” O’Connell said of his highlight throw to Tucker. “I remember in our preseason game here against the 49ers, (Tucker) had a similar play and it ended up being incomplete. Just to full-circle see him come and make the same catch was pretty awesome.”
O’Connell went to Tucker’s close friend and another rookie classmate, Michael Mayer, two plays later for a potential touchdown before the second-round tight end was knocked out at the 1-yard line.
Defensively, first-round pick Tyree Wilson had his best game yet that included his second sack of the season when the Giants were driving late in hopes of a comeback attempt. Sixth-round linebacker Amari Burney stopped the drive with a textbook open-field tackle on a fourth-down checkdown pass to Giants running back Matt Breida.
“We’re a force to be reckoned with,” Hobbs said of the defense in the locker room in between cigar puffs. “I feel like we can be top 10 in the league.”
Perhaps the one area of concern that wasn’t addressed was wide receiver Davante Adams’ diminished role as the superstar was held to four catches for 34 yards. But unlike after virtually every other game this season, Adams showed no signs of being upset in the locker room.
He was right next to Pierce nodding his head as the new coach gave a postgame speech about starting off a “blank sheet, new chapter.” Adams didn’t grab one of the cigars Crosby supplied, but smiled as teammates partook in the celebration.
“Everybody knows I’m sober but I love my cigars,” Crosby said. “I wanted the guys to have fun after the game. I got the equipment guys to buy them last night — shot over a Venmo and got them taken care of and we had them ready to rock.”
Pierce had urged his players to get back to their “roots,” meaning everything from playing with as much passion as they did as children to embracing the Raiders’ historic bad-boy reputation.
He gave them high marks in achieving the objective in their first time on the field under his watch.
“And to me, the most important part, look at how those guys celebrated,” Pierce said. “Look at how they were together as a unit.”