MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Well, it was a great two weeks. But the Antonio Pierce honeymoon came to a torturous ending Sunday as the Las Vegas Raiders lost a 20-13 game to the Miami Dolphins that they had many chances to steal.
Rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell threw three interceptions — all in the second half — as the Raiders could not reward their defense for keeping them in the game. The Raiders’ offense did not have a first down in the second or third quarter, and then did not score any points in the second half. Their last chance was left hanging … and hanging … in the air a little too long for Jalen Ramsey to pick off in the end zone with 25 seconds left.
O’Connell wasn’t the only one experiencing growing pains. Pierce and first-time offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree also didn’t have great days, including a weird move to go ultra-conservative at the end of the first half.
“Yeah, there’s a learning lesson for all of us, and I start with A.P.,” said Pierce of himself, now 2-1 as interim coach. “Learning lesson for me, for Bo, for Aidan. We’ve got to do a better job matching the game, and not put them in those situations where Aidan has to win the game — and that starts with me.”
Dolphins clinch win vs. Raiders as O’Connell throws 3 INTs
The Raiders fall to 5-6 with their first loss in Pierce’s three-game interim coach era. The defense overcame several early penalties and the inability to cover Tyreek Hill to hold the Dolphins to two second-half field goals. The Raiders had three chances to tie the game in the fourth quarter, but they turned the ball over on downs and then O’Connell threw his final two interceptions.
O’Connell also missed wide and long on some throws, including a deep throw down the left side to Davante Adams with 1:47 left where Adams had a step on his defenders. There was also a flea-flicker in the third quarter where he missed Adams deep (though that play would have been wiped out by a Jermaine Eluemunor hold).
“You’re talking about a game of inches, maybe a yard or two on some throws that are explosives for us, and we just didn’t make it,” Pierce said. “At the end of the game, we’re in plus territory with a chance to tie it up, maybe win it, and we didn’t get it done.”
— NFL (@NFL) November 19, 2023
O’Connell was making his fourth career start and acknowledged that respected Dolphins coordinator Vic Fangio had his number. From the jump.
“Yeah, even on our first snap they did something we hadn’t seen on film yet,” O’Connell said. “So it was a good job mixing it up. We’ve just got to execute better, can’t turn the ball over. It’s really on us at the end of the day to do our job better, me in particular. Yeah … just frustrating.”
The Dolphins fumbled twice in the first half but the Raiders only scored six points off those. Of course, after the second of those fumbles, they weren’t even trying to score a touchdown. That came when Nate Hobbs — who was the best Raider on the field — forced and recovered a fumble at the 32-yard line with 58 seconds to play in the half.
Josh Jacobs ran the ball for 3 yards on the first play of the drive and then the Raiders let the clock run down to 16 seconds before O’Connell threw incomplete for Adams. O’Connell missed him again on another short pass and Daniel Carlson came on for the 47-yard field goal and 14-13 deficit at the half. It was a jarring move by Pierce and Hardegree, who had been aggressive their first two games.
Pierce was asked, essentially, what gives?
“Yeah, just want to kind of protect the young quarterback,” he said. “We want to get points on the board if we have that opportunity. Didn’t want to have anything happen that could be a negative for us. … I felt we were in a good place at that time.”
It turns out Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel also had no confidence in the Raiders offense. The Dolphins were up 17-13 and had the ball fourth-and-1 at the Raiders 33-yard line with 30 seconds left in the third quarter. But Mr. Aggressive Analytics guy settled for a 51-yard field goal.
McDaniel was asked, essentially, what gives?
“Yeah, that’s definitely not to my pattern or stereotype, but that was me adjusting to the particular game,” he said. “I was really super confident in the defense. I felt like a touchdown lead, they would really, really have to — I thought it was pretty safe. I thought those were big points, which is why I didn’t go for it, which was kind of my knee-jerk. But I was adjusting to the situation.”
Namely that a team with Jacobs and Adams can’t score 20 points.
Jacobs was held to 39 yards on 14 carries after running for 214 yards on 53 carries in the wins over the New York Giants and New York Jets.
“(The Dolphins) did a good job, a lot of movement up front,” Pierce said. “A little bit of different looks here and there, not much, but just enough to throw us off. And then we just, we’re always — we were behind the sticks. We were behind the sticks and that made it difficult. We’ll get back to it.”
O’Connell finished 24-of-41 for 271 yards and actually gave the Raiders a 10-7 lead at the end of the first quarter when he hit Adams on a 46-yard lob where Adams beat the cornerback and safety deep. It was Adams’ first touchdown since Week 3.
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) November 19, 2023
The Raiders then went 31 minutes, 26 seconds of game time without a first down. O’Connell’s first interception, with 8:13 left in the third quarter, was his worst, as he waited too long and locked in on Tre Tucker. The two in the fourth quarter were both with him in desperation mode, trying to avoid a sack on fourth down and then trying to get lucky as the final seconds ticked down.
Adams acknowledged that rookie quarterbacks are going to have bad days at the office. Especially when the offense is in muggy Miami and the opposing coordinator is a handful.
“It was weird, man,” Adams said. “You look at the one earlier pick, on fourth down, that’s just him trying to make a play. That’s a tough one. The first one, obviously, he’ll look at on tape and know that he has to make a better throw. He knows that.
“We’re not freaking out, he’s not freaking out. We just have to stay together and find a way to convert better.”
Pierce held off on assessing O’Connell’s play until we watched the film.
“We’ve just got to do a good job with the football,” he said. “Got to do a good job with the football, and again, that starts with the coaches, prepping him, getting him ready, making him understand situational football. But again, young player, we’ll get better and we got to go back to the drawing boards.”
Pierce talked to the media after O’Connell did, which is unusual but was because owner Mark Davis went into Pierce’s office for a chat earlier than usual.
It would be hard to imagine the Raiders going back to the veteran Jimmy Garoppolo after he was benched for O’Connell, but with the Raiders you never really know. At 5-6 in a crowded AFC playoff race, next week’s home game against the Kansas City Chiefs looms large if this team really does have any hope.
Pierce did find some solace in one thing.
“We played hard,” he said. “Does that get you Ws? No, but it gives you a chance to win games, and that’s what I think we did. We gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game, under a minute, plus territory. … We didn’t — there is no moral victories. I told the guys to keep their chins up.”
(Photo of Aidan O’Connell being pressured into an interception: Megan Briggs / Getty Images)
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