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Raiders Dominate Chargers

Steve Marcus/AP

Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Eric Kendricks (6) sacks Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Aidan O’Connell (4) during the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

Touch the ball; touch the end zone.

That’s one of the rules Raiders interim coach Antonio Pierce has stressed the most in practice since he took over the position midseason. He wants his team to always finish the play and get used to finishing with a score.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a kickoff, punt, interception, fumble recovery — that guy is going to run into the end zone and the next man comes in and we just keep rolling,” Pierce said. “That’s just creating habits, muscle memory.”

The habit has evidently, and improbably, stuck more with the defense than the offense recently. Las Vegas (7-8) rides a two-game win streak into a Week 17 game at the Indianapolis Colts (8-7) at 10 a.m. Sunday despite having not scored an offensive touchdown in nearly six quarters, or more than 85 straight minutes of game time.

The defense has outscored the offense 28-13 in the span by scoring a pair of touchdowns in back-to-back games for the first time in franchise history.

The Raiders did explode for 42 offensive points in the first half of a record-shattering victory over the Chargers, but they’ve averaged less than a field goal in the five other halves of games that surround that break-out frame.

The late slowdown against the Chargers was excusable considering the Raiders were so far ahead and just milking clock, but the anemic offensive performance in last week’s 20-14 victory over the Chiefs went down as more concerning. The Raiders realize as much because, as soon as the euphoria of beating their champion archrivals wore off, they shifted their focus to how they could have made it easier on themselves.

“We still have to figure out a way to play better on offense,” wide receiver Davante Adams said. “Our defense is playing really well right now carrying the team, and our special teams has been lights-out this year. We’ve just got to find a way to be more consistent so we don’t end up being that weak link of the squad, especially with the talent that we have.”

Adams was underutilized against the Chiefs. Although he drew a team-high six targets, many of them were uncatchable or would have required a Herculean effort to haul in.

The perennial All-Pro wound up with only one catch for four yards early in the game as part of a 15-pay, 87-yard field goal drive in the first quarter. That possession would be the only time the Raiders completed any passes all day against the Chiefs.

Rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell went 9-for-10 on passing attempts during that drive, and then 0-for-11 the rest of the game.

“It’s a team game,” O’Connell said. “I’m really happy I don’t play an individual sport. I wouldn’t do very well. To have guys to rely on I think is a beautiful part of the sport we play.”

Some have wondered whether the Raiders shouldn’t consider turning back to original starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo against the Colts given that they must win to stay in the playoff race.

Pierce himself had admitted to considering a quarterback switch earlier on during the offensive troubles, but not this week. He hasn’t lost confidence in O’Connell largely because he doesn’t feel like O’Connell has lost confidence in himself.

In fact, Pierce paid O’Connell a compliment for his demeanor throughout the Chiefs’ game by comparing the quarterback to a certain famous former Super Bowl-winning teammate of his own with the New York Giants.

“I’m going to say it because I can relate: It’s Eli (Manning), man,” Pierce said. “It’s just like, ‘You good? Yeah, I’m good….We ain’t complete a ball yet, you good?’ He’s still good. That shocked me (against the Chiefs) because I wanted to see if he was still going to have that look in his eye. But he understood it was a team game, and yesterday wasn’t his day. The rest of the team carried him, and that’s fine.”

There’s precedent for O’Connell bouncing back. The best he’s ever looked as professional was in the first-half onslaught against the Chargers where he threw for four touchdown passes, including two to fellow rookie Tre Tucker.

That came right after the previous low where the Raiders lost 3-0 to the Vikings in the lowest-scoring indoor game in NFL history. O’Connell averaged a then-career low 5.3 yards per attempt and threw a virtual game-sealing interception.

But he hasn’t committed a turnover since, another reason for Pierce’s optimism.

The loss to the Vikings was more of an overall offensive nadir as the Raiders also couldn’t run the ball with 56 yards on 17 carries. Running back Zamir White at least gave them a faint offensive pulse against the Chiefs with 145 rushing yards on 22 carries that included clinching the game with a pair of first-down runs at the end of the game.

Josh Jacobs, who’s missed the last two games with a quad injury, is likely to return against the Colts to potentially give the Raiders a two-pronged rushing attack.

O’Connell has never said, and can’t say, that there’s not enough help around him to manufacture better offensive results. He’ll just have to utilize it better against the Colts.

“We don’t go into a game thinking our defense is going to bail us out here or there,” O’Connell said. “Obviously, they have. They’ve done an awesome job of that and we’re confident they’re going to do that because they’ve shown it. But we want to perform as best we can individually and collectively as different units on the offense. And then as a whole group, I think we want to challenge ourselves to score as many points as possible but also be as efficient as possible, make good decisions with everything we do.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or

Article written by #LasVegasSun