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Raiders Dominate Chargers

Steve Marcus/AP

Las Vegas Raiders interim head coach Antonio Pierce stands on the sidelines during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

The lasting image of the Raiders’ victory over the Chiefs two weeks ago, if not the team’s whole season, might turn out to be Maxx Crosby embracing Antonio Pierce on the sidelines as time expired in the game.  

The superstar edge rusher made it a point to find the interim coach, a symbolic gesture that goes a long way in illustrating their tight-knit relationship. To fathom the full rapport between Crosby and Pierce, however, it would be best to also spot their usual pregame interaction.

It hasn’t been as frequent since Pierce was elevated from linebackers coach, but dating back to last season, he and Crosby developed an on-field tradition of sorts. They’d face off for an encounter that wasn’t quite as cordial as the one they shared after knocking off the Chiefs.

“Me and him would get into it on the sidelines,” Crosby described earlier this season. “He would try to hype me up, get under my skin. We’d go back and forth. That’s just kind of our relationship.”

It’s a relationship that could define the Raiders for the rest of the decade depending on what happens over the next month.

Pierce is considered the leading candidate for the Raiders’ permanent head-coaching job, though team owner Mark Davis must go through a full coaching search after the season to comply with NFL rules. Pierce could strengthen his case if he finishes his time as interim coach with a winning record as he currently sits at 4-4 going into Sunday’s season finale at Allegiant Stadium pitting the Raiders (7-9) against the Denver Broncos (8-8).

If given the full-time gig, Pierce will be every bit as important to the Raiders’ future as Crosby, whom he calls, “the face of the franchise.” That’s no hyperbole, and it’s not changing any time soon as Crosby is only a season into the four-year, near $100 million deal he signed before last season.

More established veteran All Pro receiver Davante Adams may have been able to stake a claim to the “face of the franchise” distinction coming into this season, but he’s had a relative down year. His future with the Raiders is also uncertain, especially after the final guaranteed season on his own massive contract elapses next year.

Las Vegas has also made the transition to being a defense-led team for the first time in years this season, a 180 that started with Crosby’s continued ascent into becoming one of the best players in the league. The 26-year-old’s words matter, and he’s making it clear whom he’d prefer to play under.

“AP embodies exactly what the Raiders represent and we all love him,” Crosby said after a win over the Chargers. “So, if you give him a chance, we feel like the sky is the limit. We love AP, and we just want to keep winning for him.”

Crosby has often talked about how he tries to become close and learn something from every coach, but his bond with Pierce has particularly come a long way quickly. Pierce arrived in Las Vegas before last season to work under former coach Josh McDaniels, and admittedly didn’t know what to think of Crosby.  

He knew Crosby was a standout player coming off his first Pro Bowl season, but thought the myths about his work ethic and dedication might be overblown.

“I remember (former Raider linebacker) Denzel Perryman was like, ‘AP, you haven’t seen nothing like this,’” Pierce said. “I’m like, ‘I’ve seen guys work hard and show effort.’ But no, (Perryman was) right, I have not seen a player be consistent like Maxx Crosby.”

Crosby isn’t shy about his pursuit of greatness — “be legendary” is even tattooed across his torso with images of athletes like Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali — to the point that his ambition could come across as grating. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why Pierce began talking trash to provide Crosby with extra fuel right before games.

If anyone can keep Crosby in check, it’s a former Pro Bowl and Super Bowl-winning linebacker like Pierce.

“There would be things I’d hear him say where I’m like, ‘I did play with Bruce Smith and Michael Strahan, guys like that,’” Pierce said.

That’s high company, but Crosby has proven enough to Pierce this year to be mentioned alongside them. And that’s not only as a player in the coach’s mind, but also as a leader.

After a rough start in an eventual loss to the Colts last week, Crosby gathered the defense on the sidelines to share some words near the end of the first half. The Raiders went on to not give up a touchdown in the second half.

Crosby’s initiative to refocus his teammates is exactly the type of culture Pierce wants to implement long-term.

As much as Crosby hopes Pierce gets the chance, Pierce may want the opportunity to keep finding ways to fire up Crosby even more.   

“He should be nominated for (the Defensive Player of the Year) award,” Pierce said. “If he gets it, I don’t know but if you watch a defensive end, a defensive player play every snap the way he plays — full, boom, gas — with all he has leaving it out there, that’s impressive. You don’t see that.”

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