Graney: Raiders don’t need Aidan O’Connell to be Superman at QB

They didn’t ask him to be Superman and, credit to Aidan O’Connell, he didn’t play as if searching for a red cape.

He simply followed a plan and was rewarded for it.

Steady as he goes. Which is exactly what the Raiders needed at quarterback Sunday.

The Giants are awful. Just a terrible football team.

Doesn’t matter. If there was ever a team that needed a comfortable victory — or any kind, for that matter — it was the one whose locker room was turned all topsy-turvy last week.

You know, before they hung up the mini-hoop.

The Raiders whipped the Giants 30-6 at Allegiant Stadium just days after coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler were fired, a dominating performance in all three phases.

One that included a rookie now directing the offense, which managed to score 20 points for the first time this season.

And did so in the first half.

The right call

One of the first announcements Antonio Pierce made as interim coach was that O’Connell would be the starting quarterback, placing veteran Jimmy Garoppolo into a backup role. It was the correct decision. The only one that made sense.

O’Connell needs the game reps to prove — one way or the other — he can be the team’s quarterback of the future. And it’s not as if Garoppolo’s recent play made the call a difficult one. He has been banged up and bad.

This was a far better version of O’Connell than what we witnessed in his first start, a 24-17 loss to the Chargers in which he was sacked seven times. He didn’t hold onto the ball for long stretches Sunday and wasn’t sacked, a major credit afforded an offensive line that had its most complete game of the season.

O’Connell wasn’t great and yet didn’t have to be. He was just solid, completing 16 of 25 passes for 209 yards.

No touchdowns, no interceptions, no big swings of emotion.

“He’s a dog, man. You know what I mean? Nothing more. Nothing less. He’s a dog,” wide receiver Tre Tucker said. “Just the leadership qualities, man. He’s poised. … I’m at the facility pretty early, and he’s always the first one there. Studying. Studying or reading his Bible. … He just works hard, man. Poised. That’s what you want to see out of a quarterback.”

Running back Josh Jacobs also used the word poised when describing O’Connell. So did star edge rusher Maxx Crosby. But for as much credit that needs to touch O’Connell, so, too, must some be attached to interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree.

He called plays in the NFL for the first time and from the start showed how disciplined the Raiders would be, a heavy dose of Jacobs on the ground while not asking O’Connell to win a game with his arm. Just manage things. Just keep order.

Jacobs rushed for 98 yards and two scores. Finally broke out.

There will be much bigger, more stressful throws to make for O’Connell as the season goes on, far better opponents. The Giants represented a perfect adversary for a quarterback with, admittedly, butterflies in his stomach. For the guy who is the guy behind center.

What a crazy time. In a matter of hours, McDaniels and Ziegler were gone, and Pierce was in and O’Connell was the quarterback. In a blink.

Smelling cigars

“It was a hard and unfortunate situation that happened this week,” O’Connell said. “To have a coaching shift this early definitely wasn’t expected, but the guys instilled confidence in me … They were definitely excited to perform like this. Felt relieved and happy and super joyful. It was definitely rocking in the locker room.”

O’Connell was just steps from it when the sweet smell of victory cigars whiffed into where he spoke. He walked off stage, picked up a bag and left.

There wasn’t a red cape in sight.

Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.

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