Is Raiders' breakthrough performance against Giants sustainable?

ByPaul Gutierrez ESPN logo
Tuesday, November 7, 2023

HENDERSON, Nev. -- Football, no doubt, is an emotional game, and the Las Vegas Raiders rode that wave for a full 60 minutes in their 30-6 demolition of the New York Giants on Sunday in interim coach Antonio Pierce's debut.

But how long can the Raiders (4-5), who had several season statistical highs to go with the feel-good victory, sustain their passion play? Or was it simply a one-off, with the New York Jets(4-4) up next on a prime-time stage Sunday night (8:20 p.m. ET, Allegiant Stadium, NBC)?

"It's a lot different than the last couple of years, but we're just trying to have fun and I think everyone responded to the fun energy we had," said receiver Hunter Renfrow, who had a season-high 32 yards receiving on two catches against the Giants.

"Not every game's going to go like this, right? We hope it [does], but I don't know, let's just ride the high while it's here."

As All-Pro receiver Davante Adams said, players should not count on emotions to sustain them.

"You want it to slow down at the end of the day," said Adams, who had four catches for 34 yards on a team-high seven targets. "You don't need to be emotional playing the game. Sometimes, you want to be emotional after. You want to have that happiness and that joy from all the work that you put in. But at the end of the day, if you can manage your emotions, then you'll be good."

It's that old chicken and the egg argument -- what comes first -- good play, or emotional highs?

Against the Giants, Las Vegas' pass rush was on point with eight sacks, the first time the Raiders had at least eight sacks more than an opponent in a game since 1977.

Offensively, Las Vegas didn't turn the ball over for the first time this season, the running game had a season-high with 125 yards and All-Pro running back Josh Jacobs scored multiple rushing touchdowns for the first time this season.

"Yeah, man, we ain't blinking," said Jacobs, who rushed for 98 yards. "I think that's the thing. We're not out there playing conservative, wondering what may happen or not ... It shows confidence in the players, and it also puts a little pressure on the players to go out there and execute plays a little more.

"The biggest thing is just understanding the week we had and the prep that it takes to actually get a win in this league. And not only that, man, just continue to be together as a team, continue to enjoy playing football, whether it's coming to practice every day or playing in the games. And I think if we keep banding together like that, there's no telling what we can do."

The special teams also contributed to the act. All-Pro kicker Daniel Carlson was perfect on his three field-goal attempts and Pro Bowl punter AJ Cole set an NFL record with a 63.6 yards per punt gross average, the highest single-game average in NFL history, minimum four punts.

"If you win two out of the three phases, you have a really good chance to win [the game]," said two-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Maxx Crosby, who had three sacks. "If you win the three, it's inevitable. So that's what we hone in on.

"We had a lot of fun out there. You can feel it. The energy was crazy, and we sustained it for the whole game. So that's what we talk about, what A.P. talked about in the beginning of the week. It's just about playing with swag, letting everyone's personality come to light, and I feel like everyone felt that."

The Giants (2-7) certainly did.

Consider: it was only the second Raiders game since 2000 when they had no turnovers, did not allow a sack and had less than five penalties.

The vibes are high, no doubt, and change is afoot with Pierce at the helm in the wake of coachJosh McDaniels' firing on Halloween.

"Every team is pretty much a reflection of their head coach, so, again, I'm mentally tough, that's what I pride myself on," Pierce said. "That was my way as a player, to have that kind of mindset, not to blink, not to worry about anything.

"I just wanted to start that process with the gentlemen [and] they bought into it."

Differences? Yeah, there were a few.

A new basketball hoop is up in the Raiders' locker room. The Friday pre-practice dance circle is back, along with a decidedly new South Central Los Angeles-centric music playlist for warmups (Pierce is from Compton and a huge N.W.A. fan). Then there was Pierce allowing all members of the practice squad to stand on the sidelines for the game before giving the players two days off with "Victory Monday" after the win.

That's not counting the Raiders turning their post-game locker room into a celebratory cigar lounge.

"That was a first," Adams smiled. "But I've never been in a predicament like this, so it was warranted."

But can they maintain it?

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