Can the Raiders make a playoff-run under Pierce?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Antonio Pierce takes over a 3-5 Raiders team that with nine games remaining, could make a similar run as the 2021 team.

HENDERSON, Nev. — I woke up at 4:30 am on Wednesday, knowing it was going to be a busy day considering Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler had been relieved of their duties as Las Vegas Raiders coach and general manager, respectively, just six and a half hours earlier.

I was in the gym with my personal trainer three hours later – at 7:30 sharp ’cause she’s a stickler for punctuality – getting my pull-day session out of the way.

Tell you this much, after listening to Raiders interim coach Antonio Pierce speak at his 1 p.m. press conference, I was ready for another lift – and ready to go harder.

Talk about motivation, sheesh!

“It’s a new day. It’s a new chapter. It’s a new era, a new mindset,” an extremely passionate Pierce said. “What is that mindset? It’s that of the Raider pride? The commitment to excellence, and making sure our alumni, our fan base, and Raider Nation are proud of what they see on the field.

“What does that look like? Tough, passionate, effort, energy, that enthusiasm that you see when we all watched our kids and these young men who are now pro athletes play when they were in Pop Warner. Having that love for the game.”

I only got to play Pop Warner two times in my life, but I’m ready to run through a brick wall for Pierce at this point.

Forget about the long-term chatter and who the next coach might be. Forget about my original thoughts of writing about whether or not the Raiders should enter the Caleb Williams sweepstakes by finding constructive ways to lose.

I’m not convinced this team should be counted out of the playoff race.

Far-fetched you say? Check the AFC standings, the Raiders are one game back of those who are tied for the final playoff spot. They also have the Giants and Jets coming to town the next two weeks.

And if there are two teams with inept offenses like Las Vegas, it’s most certainly the boys from Jersey.

But by getting to .500, the Raiders could bring a wealth of momentum to Miami on Nov. 19, and return home hungry to play the Chiefs on Nov. 26 just before their bye week.

The Raiders close the season with, at the very least, four winnable games: vs. Minnesota, vs. the Chargers, at Indianapolis, and vs. Denver. Sandwiched smack dab in the middle is a trip to Kansas City.

Right now, I don’t know if the Raiders can win at Arrowhead.

Then again, the difference with the Raiders in six weeks is McDaniels will be forgotten and if the players are as motivated as I was to hit a heavy leg day after Piece spoke, they too are ready to run through a brick wall for this dude.

Remember two years ago when the Raiders faced adversity after the Jon Gruden emails were leaked?

That team went from being 5-2 heading into a bye week, to losing three straight and five of six to drop to 6-7.

But then-interim coach Rich Bisaccia had the locker room, and a player-led roster was revived and motivated. The Raiders closed the season winning four straight to finish 10-7 and slipped into the postseason after placekicker Daniel Carlson punctuated the final play of the NFL’s entire regular season with a 47-yard field goal as time expired in overtime to lift Las Vegas to a 35-32 playoff-clinching win over the Chargers on Sunday Night Football.

And to be quite honest, this year’s team might be better than the 2021 version. It’s just been mismanaged and mentally maligned by McDaniels.

Until now.

“I think Antonio will do fine,” former Raider great Lincoln Kennedy said. “If the locker room has been lost to the previous coaching staff then he will know how to get it back.”

It sounds like he already has, and Pierce understands players from a player standpoint.

“This is about the players,” Pierce said. “This is about the Raiders and this is about this organization. And we’re tired of losing. It’s not a good feeling.

“I’m relying on our leaders to lead. I’m coming in here with the game plan. This is the picture we’re trying to paint. But they’ve got to carry it throughout. The best teams that I’ve ever been on as a player or as a coach (were) player ran. Player ran, bottom line. … Our captains and leaders know what it takes.”

Asked about the pride in the locker room heading into Sunday’s game, and the move to make Pierce interim head coach, defensive end Maxx Crosby replied, “Us against the world.”

The notion this team should tank – I can’t believe I was ready to suggest such a thing – is blasphemous after hearing the pride Pierce plans on bringing to the Raiders’ facility.

A production-based business he said, and being competitive. Playing with an edge, a swag, and a certain confidence when they walk out of the tunnel. One that reminds everyone about what the Silver and Black once was and Davis is hoping can be again.

“We had a good team meeting this morning,” Pierce said. “I had a full house and I think I had everybody’s attention. I had their eyes. I’m not a long-winded person. I don’t give you a dialogue or write an essay. I get right to the point, it’s black and white. You know how I feel when I walk out the door.

“I’m a former player, I touch former players. I can relate to them. I’ve done the same things they’ve done, I’ve walked the same path they walked, I’ve felt the same pain they’ve felt. My personality will come out and reflect on this team, and hopefully we feel that on Sunday.”

Tanking?! Forget about it.

Let’s talk about making a run to the playoffs.