Updated November 19, 2023 - 4:43 pm
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The record scratched, the music stopped and the lights came on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.
The party was over for the Raiders and interim coach Antonio Pierce, who suffered his first loss, 20-13 against the Dolphins, after two wins to start his tenure.
As it turns out, it takes more than good vibes to consistently move the football on offense and more than positive energy to cover Tyreek Hill.
Nobody was pointing fingers in a locker room that was devoid of the cigar smoke and loud music that marked the victory celebrations after Pierce’s first two games.
But it was clear what aspect of the team was most to blame for the Raiders (5-6) falling back below .500.
“The defense played really well,” wide receiver Hunter Renfrow said. “As an offense, we have to pick it up.”
It was a blunt, yet obvious assessment after a valiant effort by the defense against one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses.
The Dolphins (7-3), who entered the game averaging 43.5 points per game at home, were held to those 20 points and went 3-for-11 on third down while turning the ball over three times. Miami got 10 catches for 146 yards and a touchdown from Hill, but scored just six points in the second half.
Yet a punchless Raiders offense could do little about it. After a 46-yard touchdown pass from Aidan O’Connell to Davante Adams on the final offensive snap of the first quarter, the Raiders did not get another first down until the fourth quarter.
They accumulated just 35 yards on seven drives over that span and were limited to 36 rushing yards in the game against a Dolphins defense that dared O’Connell to beat them.
“Offensively we have a lot of things to look at,” Pierce said. “It’s a learning lesson for all of us. I’ll start with A.P. Learning lesson for me, for (offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree) and for Aidan. We have to do a better job managing the game and not putting him in those situations where Aidan has to win the game. And that starts with me.”
O’Connell and the offense had the ball inside the Miami 40-yard line on three occasions with a chance to tie or take the lead in the final 10 minutes.
Turnover on downs. Interception. Interception.
The final meaningful play was a heave to the end zone that was intercepted by Jalen Ramsey, his second of the game, to seal the win with 22 seconds left.
“I just have to play better. Passing the ball, decision-making all of that stuff,” said O’Connell, who finished 24-for-41 for 271 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. “I’m learning how hard the NFL is and how hard it is to win. Kudos to our defense. They just played so well in the second half and kept us in the game.
“It’s really going to come down to our offense and watching the film to just be better all around, and it starts with me.”
Pierce paused when asked to assess O’Connell’s performance.
“We have to look at it before I make that statement,” he said. “We have to do a good job with the football. That starts with the coaches. Prepping him, getting him ready and understanding situational football. But again, young player who will get better, and we have to go to the drawing board.”
Time might be running out. The Raiders know they can’t waste defensive efforts like they got Sunday if they want to remain in the postseason race, especially with a game against the Chiefs next week at Allegiant Stadium.
But they aren’t writing off any of their goals and aren’t accepting that the party is over, even if there was no celebration in the locker room.
“Every day we talk about pride, poise and passion. Respect for the game and playing it the right way,” Pierce said. “And guys did. They played hard. Does that get you wins? No. But it gives you a chance. We had an opportunity to win in plus-territory with under a minute. There are no moral victories, but I told them to keep their chins up. We’re going to be the same way win, lose or draw. We’ll go back to work on Tuesday and get after it.”
Renfrow said this is the type of adversity that can either bring a team closer or tear it apart and admitted there might have been times in the past that this loss could have sent it spiraling. But he believes the vibe will remain good because of how close the team has become.
Star defensive end Maxx Crosby agreed.
“At the end of the day, we’re not riding a roller coaster,” he said. “It’s not like that. Guys are itching to play, and you feel that. You’ve seen it the last three weeks. It’s not a coincidence or a fluke. Guys are playing together, and there’s no other guys I’d rather play with.”