Puffs of cigar smoke wafted through the Las Vegas Raiders locker room as music bumped following Sunday's 30-6 victory over the New York Giants. The celebratory mood beckoned to Raiders days of yesteryear, highlighting the change that has washed over the organization following last week's firing of Josh McDaniels, with former player Antonio Pierce taking charge as interim HC.
"I told them just go back to our roots. How did we all get here?" Pierce said after his first win as a coach, via the official transcript. "And I said it in (my introductory) press conference, when you were in Pop Warner, you just had to enjoy the love for the game, and I just felt like we'd lost that for a bit. Like I told you back on Thursday, if you were at practice, you would've seen it. Friday, same exact thing and just their focus throughout the building.
"Obviously, there's videos the guys playing hoops, having fun, just enjoying themselves, but then we went to the grass, it was working, business, and they understand that. But more importantly, they wanted to do it for each other. They just wanted that feeling, that joy that they're now celebrating, dancing and having a great time in the locker room."
The players were loose, but Pierce, a nine-year linebacker with Washington and the New York Giants, who was elevated from LB coach to the head chair last week, said he was nervous heading into the game.
"It's up there, my stomach was having butterflies before the game. That's only happened two other times in my life, and it was special, very special," he said.
Pierce's approach has resonated with players.
"It's a hard situation what happened this week, but I think the guys felt relieved and happy and super joyful that we could perform like this," said rookie QB Aiden O'Connell. who got the start following Jimmy Garoppolo's benching. "So it was definitely rocking in the locker room."
The locker room was rocking because the Raiders finally got off the mat on offense.
The Raiders scored more points in the first half (24) than in any game in 2023 (the previous high was 21 points in Week 6 versus the Patriots). Josh Jacobs generated season-highs with 98 rush yards and two rush TDs -- he had three rush TDs on the season entering Week 9. O'Connell avoided turnovers, calmly leading the offense, and completed 16 of 25 passes for 209 yards.
"The vibe and the energy is just electric right now," Jacobs said. "This is the most connected I feel like we've been as a unit."
Added Jacobs: "(Pierce) just told me the way I play the game with passion, it ignites a spark in the guys. That's what I tried to come out here and bring today."
The change helped the Raiders blast a reeling Giants club. We've seen mid-season coaching moves spark short-term success in the past. Vegas knows well after Jeff Saturday's Colts beat them last year. The challenge for Pierce is keeping the vibes and wins rolling. The next three games offer much stiffer tests with the New York Jets in prime-time in Week 10, Miami and Kansas City on tap.