LAS VEGAS — From zero to 63 in 96 hours.
That’s how fast things changed for the Raiders as they set a franchise record for most points in a game Thursday in a 63-21 demolition of the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium.
No team in NFL history had gone from being shut out in one week to scoring more than 60 the following week. But the Raiders had a lot of pent up frustration following last Sunday’s 3-0 loss to the Vikings and they took it out on the Chargers.
“We just scored zero,” Raiders interim head coach Antonio Pierce said. “I ain’t going to stop the boys from scoring.
“Davante (Adams) said after the last game we were on the wrong side of history. Tonight, we were on the right side of history.”
On a night where people were questioning a lot of things about the Silver and Black, Las Vegas did virtually everything right in an attempt to keep their faint playoff hopes alive. They dominated in every facet. The offense was clicking. The defense was suffocating. The special teams were flawless.
In doing so, the Raiders (6-8) took out a season’s worth of frustration on the hapless Chargers, who were incapable or unwilling to put up a fight.
Going into the game, you had two head coaches who were trying to convince their respective ownerships they were worthy of remaining employed. You had two starting quarterbacks who more than likely aren’t going to be starting next year, assuming they remain in the NFL. And you had key individuals on both sides of the ball for both teams out with injuries.
It had the makings of one ugly night in Vegas.
Sure enough, the Chargers obliged with as putrid a performance the league has seen this year since Week 3 when the Broncos went to Miami and were surrendering 70 points to the Dolphins in a 50-point loss.
Brandon Staley, LA’s beleaguered head coach, may have been an ex-coach by the time the team’s plane touched down at LAX late Thursday night. He’s almost a sure bet to be gone come Jan. 8, which is the NFL’s “Black Monday” and a day where teams traditionally make coaching changes.
As for Pierce, who has been auditioning to be the Raiders’ permanent head coach in 2024, he made a strong case for himself. At least for one night. His defense continued to play inspired football and his decision to start rookie QB Aidan O’Connell instead of switching back to veteran Jimmy Garoppolo turned out to be a wise one.
O’Connell failed to put up points four days ago against Minnesota. Thursday, he quickly erased that performance with four first-half touchdown passes as part of a 42-point effort, which equaled the franchise’s record for most first half points, set in 1969. He would finish with 248 yards on 20-of-34 passing, four TDs and no interceptions. The offensive line did a great job of giving O’Connell time to throw and make plays. Khalil Mack, who sacked him six times when these teams met in LA back on Oct. 1, never got near him Thursday. In fact, LA’s lone sack of O’Connell came courtesy of Eric Kendricks in the third quarter with the game having long since been decided.
“Super proud of our guys,” O’Connell said. “We had a short week and to be able to move on, it’s fun when everything comes together like that.”
O’Connell was quick to praise his offensive line, which was down two starters. He was also without star running back Josh Jacobs.
“Those guys played their butts off,” he said. “We have a ‘Next man up’ mentality and that was big.”
Yes, the Chargers didn’t have star quarterback Justin Herbert, who had surgery on his right hand and is out for the year. In his place was Easton “Hockey” Stick, who had played at North Dakota State and was making his first NFL start.
He was clearly overmatched, as were his teammates. Three lost fumbles were converted into Raider TDs and that was all she wrote. The Chargers (5-9) looked disinterested and offered little resistance against a Raiders team which obviously had not quit on itself.
Defensive TDs by John Jenkins (a 44-yard scoop-and-score following a Stick fumble) and Jack Jones (a 15-yard interception) helped round out the record-breaking performance as the Raiders eclipsed the previous team high of 59 points set in 2010 vs. Denver and got some much needed momentum heading into the final three games of the season.
Can they finish strong and do enough to keep Pierce employed? It won’t be easy. The Raiders go to Kansas City on Christmas Day to face the AFC West-leading Chiefs. Then they travel to Indianapolis on New Year’s Eve to meet the much-improved Colts. Finally, they end the regular season at home against Denver in Week 18. If they remain motivated and competitive and win two of the last three, perhaps owner Mark Davis thinks about retaining Pierce as his guy. There’s no question the change has been a positive one from the players’ perspective since Pierce replaced Josh McDaniels last month.
But there was so much to celebrate Thursday. They busted out the victory cigars in the home team’s locker room after nearly a month’s hiatus and gave their owner something to smile about.
As for the Chargers, what can you say? They have experienced some close losses this year and it has been frustrating to say the least for their fans. But this one will sting for quite a bit and even the fact they didn’t have their star quarterback doesn’t excuse what was as dismal an overall performance as you’ll see in the NFL.
When asked afterward if he thinks he’ll still be coaching the Chargers Friday, Staley said, “I don’t know.”
The Raiders are going to quickly put this one in the rear-view mirror, much the same way as they did the loss to Minnesota, and look ahead to Christmas in Kansas City.
“I won’t lie, I was down after Sunday,” Pierce said. “The best thing was the players got me out of my funk and we kicked some ass today.”