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2023 NFL season, Week 15: What We Learned from Raiders' win over Chargers on Thursday night

1) Aidan O'Connell, Raiders deliver first-half statement. Coming off one of the worst offensive performances of the season Sunday in a 3-0 loss at home to the Vikings, the Raiders didn't exactly inspire a lot of scoring confidence coming into Thursday night. But Aidan O'Connell broke out of his slump, and the team ended up with a franchise-record 63 points. Go figure. On the opening drive, O'Connell led Las Vegas to its first offensive touchdown in 20 possessions, ending up with four first-half TD passes. He misfired on a few balls early but settled in nicely, delivering two pretty deep-ball TDs to Tre Tucker and Jakobi Meyers, putting them up, 21-0, in the first quarter. O'Connell had time to throw, thanks to his offensive line, and receivers were seemingly open all night. By mid-second quarter, the Raiders surpassed last week's yardage total (203). It's easier to score when your opponent loses the first-half turnover battle 3-0 (4-0 if you count the fourth-down stop), but racking up 49 points in 34 minutes was a bolt out of the blue. Vegas had scored 46 combined in the previous three games. This was a good night for O'Connell.

2) Chargers turn in awful showing as spotlight turns to Brandon Staley. The season-ending finger injury to Justin Herbert was the latest devastating turn for the Chargers' season – and then Thursday happened. The 63 points allowed Thursday were a franchise-worst for the Chargers, whose season has now completely cratered. Almost right out of the gates, it was clear that the Raiders had some gas in the tank after a tough loss Sunday, but the Chargers appeared to be lifeless after taking a few early blows. The Raiders scored on their first three possessions, two of them set up by fumble recoveries. Staley had no answers, and neither did his players. The Chargers' defense, which had been good recently, was put in a tough spot early. The offense turned it over or punted every possession, and punt returner Derius Davis lost a fumble at the Chargers' 14-yard line. By that point, it felt like they had had enough, as the defense looked completely lost on a Brandon Bolden TD run. The Raiders tacked on three more TDs before the end of the half, then drove 75 yards on the opening drive of the third quarter, making it 49-zip on a trick-play TD. That can't be good for Staley, who has faced questions about his future in recent days. Asked after the game if he expected to be the head coach on Friday, he simply replied, "I don't know."

3) Raiders' young playmakers step up. On a night when the Raiders were without running back Josh Jacobs and starting offensive linemen Kolton Miller and Andre James, it was nice to see some young offensive playmakers take advantage of their opportunities. Zamir White, starting for Jacobs, had never had more than five touches in a regular-season game, ended up being the Raiders' workhorse Thursday night. He ran the ball 17 times for 69 yards and the first TD of the game, adding three catches for 16 yards. White might have done more in this game to impress than he had collectively all season. It was an even bigger night for WR Tre Tucker, who scored his first two NFL touchdowns. He bobbled the first, but it held up under review. Tucker's second score was far prettier, delivering the final deathblow of the first half. Tight end Michael Mayer also got in on the fun early, scoring his second touchdown of the season. This was probably the quietest 101-yard game of Davante Adams' career, thanks to the group effort. The offense finally found some early rhythm with O'Connell at QB, and they kept their foot on the pedal, with a lot of the youngsters getting a chance behind the wheel.

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4) Easton Stickstruggled in first NFL start. There might have been some gentle buzz in football circles for Stick's first start since North Dakota State (where he went 49-3), but that was quickly doused. The offense went three-and-out on the opening drive, and Stick fumbled on the next possession. Things turned ridiculous when Joshua Kelley coughed it up on the first play of drive No. 3. The Raiders went up, 21-0, before some fans found their seats, and it put Stick in nearly a no-win spot. The pass rushers pinned their ears back. The defensive backs squatted on the short stuff. Down, 35-0, the Chargers tried desperately to score before the half and get some kind of evaluation on Stick, to whom they might not be wedded. But Austin Ekeler was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 run at midfield (and the Chargers were guilty of offensive offsides, hilariously), and the Raiders made it 42-0 at half. Stick hit Joshua Palmer on a 79-yard strike to temporarily stop the bleeding, but that was about the only highlight Stick could hang his hat on. He lost a fumble on a sack, with the scoop and score putting the Raiders up, 56-7. Stick's final passing line (23 of 32, 257 yards, three TDs) doesn't look too bad to the naked eye, but the bulk of his production came down six TDs and his two lost fumbles and a late pick-six were killers.

5) The Raiders' defense was teeing off. Any defender worth his salt can smell blood, and it was a bath's worth before the first half was over. The defense set the tone with two early turnovers that led to touchdowns and the 21-0 lead, and Antonio Pierce's sideline mannerisms sent the message that the Raiders were not about to let up. They got a big fourth-down stuff before the end of the half, but their best work in the playmaking department came later. The Raiders appeared to take the Chargers scoring one TD in the third quarter as a personal affront, so on the next two possessions, they ran back a fumble (327-pound John Jenkins!) and an interception (the recently acquired Jack Jones) for touchdowns. From that point on, the Raiders sat their starters (even iron man Maxx Crosby) and sat back in prevent mode, allowing another two scores after that. But on a night when Crosby was held without a sack, Vegas cleaned out the Chargers pretty quickly and told them to come back anytime.

Next Gen stat of the game: Raiders DT John Jenkins reached a top speed of 14.95 mph on his 44-yard fumble return, the fourth-fastest speed by a 320-pound ball carrier in the NGS era (since 2016). Malcolm Koonce, who forced the fumble, has generated four-plus pressures in five of his past six games.

NFL Research: The Raiders' 42 first-half points were most scored by a team coming off a shutout. It breaks the previous record of 34 points by the 1927 Frankford Yellow Jackets, who were coming off a 0-0 tie versus the Dayton Triangles.

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