Raiders trying to juggle QB Aidan O'Connell's growing pains

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Go ahead, chalk it up as a learning experience for a rookie quarterback, even as the loss goes on the record of the Las Vegas Raiders' Aidan O'Connell.

Because while Raiders interim coach Antonio Pierce said O'Connell gave Las Vegas its best chance for success when announcing that the rookie would supplant veteran Jimmy Garoppolo as the starter in his introductory media conference, Pierce acknowledged after Sunday's 20-13 defeat to the Miami Dolphins that the Raiders went conservative "to protect the young quarterback."

Some might see a mixed signal, or three.

Because O'Connell ended the first quarter by launching a 46-yard scoring strike to All-Pro receiver Davante Adams and then, the offense went silent.

No first downs in the second or third quarters. For the 10th time in 11 games this season, the Raiders (5-6) failed to score at least 20 points. And the Raiders were shut out in the second half of a winnable game. And O'Connell, who is now 2-2 as a starter, finished 24-of-41 passing for 260 yards with the TD and three interceptions against the Dolphins.

"We've just got to execute better, can't turn the ball over," he said. "It's really, at the end of the day, do our job better, me in particular. So yeah, just frustrating."

O'Connell also took a pair of sacks.

"I think I have to probably not be as predictable and ... use my legs a little bit," he said. "I think, again, if I do my job better, we'll be in better situations. Just all around, I have to play better, pass the ball, decision-making, all that stuff."

O'Connell, a fourth-round pick out of Purdue, was known for his accuracy in college. But his first interception came on a throw behind rookie receiver Tre Tucker which Dolphins cornerback Jalen Ramsey was all too happy to pick off near midfield midway through the third quarter.

The Raiders were trailing 14-13 at the time.

O'Connell's second pick came on a busted play late in the fourth quarter, with the Raiders trailing by a touchdown and O'Connell being taken down by Miami defensive tackle Christian Wilkins on fourth down. O'Connell saw receiver Jakobi Meyers and tried to flip him the ball, but it landed in linebacker Jaelan Phillips' arms.

The final pick came with 25 seconds to play and the Raiders facing second-and-10 at the Dolphins' 39-yard line as they were attempting to drive for a game-tying score. O'Connell floated his deep ball to Tucker a bit too much and Ramsey again made him pay.


"We were a little messed up in our alignment to start," O'Connell said. "I didn't communicate well enough to get into the huddle, so better communication would've gotten to the play better and all around would have been better. ... I know we had to get a chunk at some point and I hung it over too much trying to make a play."

The Raiders next face the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs (7-2), who have won 14 of the past 16 matchups in the AFC West series dating to 2015.

No doubt O'Connell, if it's deemed that he still gives the Raiders their best shot at winning and making a run, will attempt to use the Miami experience to improve himself.

"Got to do a good job with the football," Pierce said, when asked to comment on O'Connell's play. "Again, that starts with the coaches prepping him, getting him ready, making him understand the situation of football. But again, young player, will do better."

Said Adams: "We're not freaking out; [Aidan's] not freaking out. We've just got to stay together and find a way to convert better."

And as O'Connell said, this is all still new to him.

"I'm learning how hard the NFL is and how hard it is to win and just, kudos to our defense, they just played so well in the second half," he said. "They kept us in the game with basically six points [allowed] in the second half. Obviously, we [didn't] score.

"It comes down to the offense and watching the film and just being better all around, and it starts with me."