Time will tell if Antonio Pierce rids himself of the interim tag and becomes the head coach for the Las Vegas Raiders. Seven games remain on the Silver and Black’s slate, and how the team performs during that span likely looms large on AP’s future, particularly the next two games at the Miami Dolphins and at home against the Kansas City Chiefs.
That said, it’s very difficult to ignore what Pierce has done in two games that former head coach Josh McDaniels could not: establish a legitimate Raiders identity.
AP, a longtime fan and steeped in Raiders culture, has brought a smashmouth attitude to Las Vegas. The OG brought back an OG Silver and Black mentality of being both mentally and physically tough. Instead of being cooped up in a roost where it was a tight ship based on a culture established on the East Coast, Pierce is allowing his players to be themselves.
Freedom goes a long way…
— Sunday Night Football on NBC (@SNFonNBC) November 13, 2023
As does the approach Antonio Pierce is taking as the new lead man in Silver and Black.
“You saw what we did out the gate; what did we do? We went right to Davante Adams. Because why? They’re going to stack the box for who? Josh Jacobs. And defensively, what did we have to do? We had to stop the running game, and we wanted to hopefully put the ball in the quarterback’s hand and make a mistake, which he did,” Pierce said when asked about finding a way to win the last two games. “So, every week, there’s a strategy to it, and obviously you want to stick to it. And I think the hardest thing to do and the most difficult thing to do is, even when it’s going good or bad, just sticking to the plan. Don’t get too cute. Don’t get fancy. Keep the game simple. Let’s not overthink ourselves.”
Simple. For some coaches, that’s a complicated thing to do.
Freedom and simple, two novel concepts…
And that’s why we’re seeing the Raiders lighting up cigars as they celebrate their back-to-back wins.
And that’s a notion that former Raiders great head coaches allowed, John Madden and Tom Flores, chief among them.
Now, don’t get it twisted; I’m not saying AP is on that track of greatness.
I’m just making an observation.
The “old’ Raiders are back…
Joshy Poo and his disciple Dave “Dolph” Ziegler had an idea of culture and identity when Mark Davis made the Patriot Twins the head coach and general manager, respectively. It was an identity that Bill Belichick instilled in New England that was amplified by Tom Brady. But as is the case with everyone who is hired away from Bill the Butcher, that mentality dies a horrible death. McDaniels and Ziegler are the latest apples to rot horribly away from the Bill Belichick tree.
And thus, it’s a new era, a new chapter in Las Vegas, with Antonio Pierce as the lead man and allowing his players and coaches to get work done and grind back towards relevancy. The Raiders have a long way to go for that, but at 5–5, they’re closer than they were with the former regime.
Opening a can of whoop a** on the New York Giants was a promising sign. And a hard-fought 16-12 win over a very stout New York Jets team that’s armed with a sound defense at all three levels was even more impressive. It was a game where Gang Green imposed its will on the host Raiders, but Las Vegas didn’t go into the night quietly. It was like watching an old-school boxing bout between two heavy-handed infighters. There was no flashy bobbing and weaving; it was toe-to-toe, trading shots, and seeing who would be first to have their knees buckle.
These were the types of tilts that didn’t sway in favor of the McDaniels Raiders. The ship ran so tight that it eventually cracked.
Pierce, however, is a different type of cat. His Raiders persevered and kept at it, knowing the head honcho had their back. McDaniels kept talking about getting a full 60 minutes of football from his Raiders. Pierce is actually out there, making it happen.
And that’s making a difference…
“It feels good because it’s everything that we’re preaching throughout the week. Being together, being tough, and playing a full 60 minutes. It was a full 60 minutes all the way to the end, to that last play, Hail Mary,” Pierce said during his Monday press conference. “The biggest thing that I took away from last night was that with five, six seconds left on the clock, I got Davante Adams here, I got Josh Jacobs here, I got the entire offense right next to the defense, and we’re all cheering each other on like, ‘Hey, let’s go guys, you got it. One more play; let’s get this stop.’ That’s what we needed.”
“We talked about everybody being all in and buying into what we’re doing and that team bond, unity, and togetherness. And to me, that was the best example that we can show Raider Nation and everybody what the team is about.”
We’ll find out plenty about what these Raiders are all about in the next two weeks. The AFC West has tightened up, with the Denver Broncos edging the Buffalo Bills 24-22 on Monday night. Las Vegas is second at 5-5 overall, with the Los Angeles Chargers and Denver right behind at 4-5 each. The Kansas City Chiefs remain the division’s top squad at 7-2.
What’s next for the Raiders…
Antonio Pierce and the Raiders head east to take on the AFC East-leading Dolphins (6-3) next Sunday. And while Raider Nation may be champing at the bit and their collective nails on how the team matches up against the high-powered ‘Phins and then against the equally impressive Chiefs, “I don’t think we’re worried about making a run. What we’ve been doing is page by page, step by step. We’re not cheating in the process because we can’t get too ahead of ourselves,” the Raiders coach said. “Obviously, the belief is getting there, believing in one another, trusting one another, being accountable to one another, playing for one another, and being together. We’ll count the wins at the end of the season, but right now, we’re still trying to build the foundation of our team and our locker room.”
So far, Antonio Pierce isn’t the broken record type that McDaniels was in both wins and losses. And that’s refreshing as much as he is to his roster and staff, I reckon. We’ll see how things go from here on in.
Like I said, there’s plenty of proving AP needs to do in order to get rid of the interim tag and land the permanent gig.
But that doesn’t mean the early returns aren’t promising.
*Top Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images