Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Week 10 — vs. New York Jets, 5:20 p.m. November 12 on NBC
Week 11 — at Miami Dolphins, 10 a.m. November 19 on CBS
Week 12 — vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 1:25 p.m. November 26 on CBS
Week 13 — Bye
Week 14 — vs. Minnesota Vikings, 1:05 p.m. December 10 on Fox
Week 15 — vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 5:15 p.m. December 14 on Prime Video
Week 16 — at Kansas City Chiefs, 10 a.m. December 25 on CBS
Week 17 — at Indianapolis Colts, 10 a.m. December 31 on CBS
Week 18 — vs. Denver Broncos, TBD January 7 on TBD
Antonio Pierce needed more hands.
The Las Vegas Raiders’ new interim coach wanted to congratulate the defense after the unit started his tenure by forcing a three-and-out and began giving high-fives as the players ran off the field. But the offense was naturally taking the field at the same time, and Pierce was trying to encourage them concurrently.
Pierce’s early demeanor in an eventual 30-6 victory against the New York Giants on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium may not sound like anything radical, but it was out of the ordinary for Raiders’ standards. Now-fired previous coach Josh McDaniels more commonly cocooned himself at one end of the sideline to focus on play calling and lock into the action during his abbreviated 25-game stint at the helm over the past year and a half.The 45-year-old Pierce instead wanted to be right in the middle of the action, a small example of the “new chapter, new era, new mindset” he wants to instill with the Raiders.
“Go back to our roots,” Pierce described his philosophy in the postgame news conference. “How did we all get here? When you were in Pop Warner, you just had a joy and love for the game. I just felt like we lost that for a bit.”
The Raiders were in the midst of arguably their worst two-game losing streak since moving to Las Vegas four seasons ago when McDaniels was let go, getting blown out by the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions on successive weeks. The former was against a team starting an undrafted rookie quarterback for the first time, Tyson Bagent, and the latter came in front of a national television audience on Monday Night Football.
Most fans and analysts left the Raiders for dead as far as playoff aspirations or even staying competitive for the rest of the year, but Pierce showed such eulogies might have been a touch premature.
Team owner Mark Davis reportedly instructed Pierce to get the team to play with as much energy as he did during a nine-year NFL playing career that peaked with a Super Bowl victory with the New York Giants in 2008. Through one game, Pierce pulled it off and led the Raiders to their second-largest win during their time in Las Vegas — just barely behind a 37-12 blowout win against the Denver Broncos in 2020.
Now at 4-5 on the season, anything is possible the rest of the year if Pierce can show that the renewed effort wasn’t a one-game mirage.
“We wanted to do it for AP,” running back/team captain Josh Jacobs said after the game. “We came to that conclusion. We all sat down and said, ‘No matter what, we’ve got to play for that man because of the position he’s in.’ However it goes, he’s going to be the face of it. He (could get) ridiculed (if we lost) so we wanted to go out there and play for him.”
The question now is how far Pierce, formerly the linebackers coach, can take it all. He’s vowing that he won’t let anyone outwork him, and no one wants to see the franchise succeed more than him.
Pierce may forever be best known as a Giant around the league, with perhaps some even remembering him from his time in Washington, when he broke into the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Arizona. But he says he goes further back with the Raiders.
“The short story is, the matter of fact is, I grew up in Compton, Calif.,” Pierce said. “I was born a Raider. I was born with the Raiders rolling into the Coliseum in LA. I was rolling with N.W.A., talking ‘Straight Outta Compton,’ rocking Raiders hats … I was born this way.”
N.W.A.’s diehard embrace of the Raiders famously exploded the franchise’s nationwide popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s, especially in the Black community. The Raiders have always proudly trumpeted their efforts at diversity, which include making a Black quarterback a first-round draft pick for the first time (Eldridge Dickey in 1968) and hiring the league’s first modern-day Black coach (Art Shell in 1989).
They hit a new landmark in the Giants game as the first team with a Black coach (Pierce), Black general manager (new interim GM Champ Kelly) and Black president (Sandra Douglass-Morgan) at the same time.
Before the chaos of the game swallowed up the trio, they posed for pictures on the field leading up to kickoff.
“Butterflies. I’ve had it three times as a professional: my first game in the NFL, the Super Bowl, and my first game as a head coach,” Pierce said. “That was special but the other part that was special was the history we made today … You don’t take that for granted. I’m humbled by the opportunity.
“When you look at it, if it goes forever, or if it doesn’t, for that one moment, we had that one opportunity. If it’s (only) the next nine games, let it be, but I’m very humbled.”
On the surface, Pierce would be a long shot to hold onto the job long-term. He only began coaching in the NFL last season — previously working as an assistant at Arizona State University following a stint as head coach at Long Beach Poly High School — and isn’t regarded as a schematic wiz like many of his NFL counterparts or McDaniels.
But maybe that’s exactly what the Raiders need — passion and attitude over structure and consistency. They rallied to make the playoffs the last time they were under a nontraditional interim coach, special teams head Rich Bisaccia in the 2021-22 season.
It’s now widely regarded as a mistake that Davis let Bisaccia go in favor of McDaniels. Players at the time endorsed keeping Bisaccia, and at this rate, the current ones might be on their way to doing the same for Pierce.
“AP is a guy with strong convictions and you can feel his intensity when he talks,” quarterback Aidan O’Connell said. “I think guys believe in him.”
This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.