Aidan O'Connell didn't just stick his toes in the water. He dove in head first, and swam as best he could through four quarters in the Raiders' 24-17 loss against the Chargers.
There was a lot of uncertainty of who was going to play quarterback heading into Sunday's game. Jimmy Garoppolo entered concussion protocol following the Week 3 matchup vs. Pittsburgh. Despite being a limited participant in practice, he wasn't cleared to play.
With a decision to make between O'Connell and veteran Brian Hoyer, the Raiders put the ball in the rookie's hands. The fourth-round draft pick showed great potential in the preseason, completing nearly 70 percent of his throws for three touchdowns and no interceptions in that period.
"If you go into a regular season game and a rookie has no opportunity to practice at all, it's a different conversation," Josh McDaniels said of going with O'Connell, who was inactive the first three games this year. "You put them in there and have no repetitions during the week, it could be a little tough which is why we went with Brian in that [backup] role. ... This week was different. [Aidan] had an opportunity to take reps every day and had an opportunity to go out there and do some of the things we were going to do in the gameplan. And because of that we just felt like, 'Keep Brian in the role that he's in and go ahead and give Aidan a shot.'"
O'Connell took control of the offense with ease to start the game, taking the Raiders down the field 64 yards on their second drive of the game. He completed all three of his pass attempts on the drive, capping it off with a one-yard touchdown rush to tie the game at seven. It was also the rookie's first official NFL touchdown.
As the game continued, the waters became deeper to navigate for the rookie quarterback. The Chargers scored 17 unanswered points fueled by two fumbles from O'Connell following sacks. Through three quarters, Khalil Mack was hellacious, to the tune of six sacks on the rookie quarterback.
Through the storm, the young man stayed poised.
"I think Aidan kind of settled in as the game went on," said McDaniels. "You can tell there was an acclimation period there to a regular season game but I thought he hung in there. I thought our guys hung in there around him."
He rallied in the fourth quarter to help lead the Raiders offense down the field for 10 points and make it a one-possession game. All-Pro duo Josh Jacobs and Davante Adams came clutch for O'Connell, as the two combined for 16 catches and 156 yards.
"I think guys did a good job around me. Kept encouraging me," O'Connell said postgame. "Obviously we got down in the first half [but] I think our defense did a good job of keeping us in the game, especially in the second half.
"And the guys around me are really good playmakers, so I just tried to get them the ball and make plays. Just a lot to correct and we're going to do that this week."
The rookie had the Chargers on their heels, driving down the field once again in hopes of tying the game. He just connected with Adams on fourth-and-10 to put the Raiders at the goal line. He was that close to weathering the storm.
Unfortunately a third turnover from O'Connell sealed the game.
The former Purdue quarterback finished the day with 238 passing yards and his first-quarter rushing touchdown. It was the second-most passing yards for a Raiders quarterback in his NFL debut. Many will say there's no moral victories in football, but that shouldn't diminish how much heart O'Connell showed in Los Angeles on Sunday evening.
"I think the magnitude of each play is what I'm learning, and what I learned today is how important each play is, how important each drive is," O'Connell said. "Just have to do my job on each play, even if it's a little bit harder one play versus another. Just got to focus, can't look ahead or can't look behind. Each play, one play at a time."
Now it's back to the drawing board for the Raiders, as they return home to face the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football. If Garoppolo still isn't cleared to return for that game, at least they have a young quarterback behind him who can swim with the sharks.
View photos from the Raiders' Week 4 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium.