Monday, Dec. 11, 2023 | 2 a.m.
There wasn’t enough silver and black left in the Allegiant Stadium stands for any audible boos.
Most Las Vegas Raiders’ fans had bailed as the final seconds ticked off the clock in the team’s 3-0 home loss to the Minnesota Vikings Sunday afternoon. The few that remained were presumably dumbfounded, left trying to figure out how their team had just played in the lowest-scoring indoor game in NFL history and the seventh 3-0 final in the Super Bowl era.
Plenty of purple remained, as Vikings’ faithful made up about half the $2 billion venue to begin with and ended up declaring it their own by belting out their “Skol” chant at the conclusion.
“Poor performance,” Raiders interim coach Antonio Pierce said. “Coaching, it starts with myself. The coordinators, the players. Just bad overall.”
Pierce’s postgame news conference started about 45 minutes after the game ended, an abnormally long wait but not one uncommon to the Raiders over the last two seasons. All the delays, whether it’s been with Pierce or former head Josh McDaniels, have been for the same reason — owner Mark Davis holding a closed-door meeting with his coach.
The Raiders have put together a handful of embarrassing performances since moving to Las Vegas, and Davis has rarely done much to hide his dissatisfaction after them. He certainly wasn’t going to start this time around.
This might have been a new low for the Raiders.
At least offensively.
Las Vegas mustered only 202 yards and eight first downs with quarterback Aidan O’Connell overwhelmed by an exotic Minnesota defensive scheme. And yet, Pierce and interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree never appeared to try anything new to spark the offense or get O’Connell more comfortable.
The entire gameplan was a mixture of short passes for O’Connell — who finished with 171 yards on 21-for-32 passing — and a futile of exercise of rushing right into the line with running back Josh Jacobs — who mustered 34 yards on 13 carries.
“Just a lack of execution,” O’Connell said. “I point to myself and say I’ve got to do a better job of executing in the run game and in the pass game and make sure we’ve got a good play going when I hike the football. You can put it on me.”
Pierce and Hardegree weren’t willing to adjust to their offense’s incompetence, but Minnesota counterparts Kevin O’Connell and Wes Phillips, respectively, did address their team’s shortcomings eventually. The Raiders had the most accomplished NFL quarterback in the building on its bench in Jimmy Garoppolo, but it was the Vikings who made a switch at the position to spark a victory.
O’Connell benched starter Josh Dobbs — who completed only 10 of 23 pass attempts for 63 yards — in favor of backup Nick Mullens midway through the fourth quarter. Mullens, who spent last training camp with the Raiders before they traded him to the Vikings, converted three straight third downs with passes to three different receivers on a 13-play, 67-yard scoring drive fresh off the bench.
He also connected on a pass with local product Jalen Nailor, a former Bishop Gorman High great, to set up kicker Greg Joseph’s 36-yard game-winning field goal with 1:57 remaining.
The possession rendered what had otherwise been an impressive defensive performance by the Raiders irrelevant. The Vikings have one of the best offensive lines in football but that didn’t stop the Raiders from winning the battle up front.
Star edge rusher Maxx Crosby had two sacks while fellow team captain Robert Spillane, first-round rookie Tyree Wilson and previous practice-squad player Janarius Robinson all also got to the opposing quarterback. Malcolm Koonce, the starting edge rusher on the other side of Crosby, may have frustrated Dobbs the most with several pressures and two official quarterback hits, though none that resulted in sacks.
“I felt like we played pretty (expletive) well,” Crosby said of the defense. “We held them to three points. We didn’t play perfect, but we did enough to win the game, just fell short.”
The Raiders’ defense came close to scoring points on its own in the first half but both cornerback Jack Jones and safety Marcus Epps dropped interceptions that it looked like they could have returned for touchdowns. The former’s pass break-up came on a Dobbs throw intended for reigning Offensive Player of the Year Justin Jefferson before the latter knocked him out of the game with a punishing hit over the middle shortly after.
Minnesota won the turnover battle 3-0 in the end. Vikings linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. more or less sealed the game when he picked off an O’Connell pass intended for Davante Adams — who had seven catches for 53 yards and rushed out of the locker room without speaking to reporters — on first down after Joseph’s late field goal.
Las Vegas had earlier reached the red zone for the only time on its first drive of the second half when Hunter Renfrow took a catch on a drag route near the line of scrimmage 38 yards down the field.
But Vikings safety Josh Metellus punched the ball out of Renfrow’s right arm for a fumble when the slot receiver caught another pass three plays later. Vikings cornerback Mekhi Blackmon jumped on the loose ball to thwart the Raiders’ scoring attempt, and then joined his teammates in the end zone where he simulated a keg stand.
The coordinated celebration might have been the most exciting moment in what was an ugly contest even for the Raiders’ standards.
It didn’t help that Jefferson wasn’t the only key player to leave the game.
Jacobs became the Raiders’ most notable exit as he limped to the locker room midway through the fourth quarter and didn’t return. Las Vegas also lost center Andre James in the third quarter, arguably the second-most important offensive lineman in a unit already without the first — left tackle Kolton Miller, who missed his third game this season with a shoulder injury.
It’s a lot to overcome with only four days until their next game, a Thursday Night Football home date with the Los Angeles Chargers.
“Everyone’s got to look their selves in the mirror, accept what they did wrong and try to work on it,” Raiders receiver Jakobi Meyers said. “We’re men at the end of the day, so have honest conversations and go out there and be the same person every day.”
Las Vegas came into the game against Minnesota hopeful and refreshed off a bye with the players speaking of motivation to potentially earn Pierce the full-time coaching job. That feels like a long shot now with Davis more likely to undergo his second coaching search in two years when the season concludes after four more games.
The only thing that’s worse than frustration for an organization to see out of its fans is apathy. The former ran rampant when the Raiders were playing poorly under McDaniels earlier this year, but the response to the Vikings’ defeat felt much more like the latter.
The crowd booed the Raiders as they went in for halftime following an awkward miscommunication where Pierce called a timeout with one second remaining while most of his team was in the tunnel, but didn’t even bother afterwards.
The Raiders’ offense had apparently left them speechless and empty.
“We could have done more,” right tackle Jermaine Elumeunor said. “You can always do more in games like this. I’ve been in the league for seven years and I’ve really never been a part of a performance like this, so I don’t really know what to say about that. I’m sorry to the fans who came to watch that. They deserve better. Raider Nation deserves better.”