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Raiders in a romp

RAIDERS 30, JETS 10: Oakland enjoys defeating New York; some Raiders even find time to speculate about Super Bowl possibilities vs. the Bucs.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 13, 2003


OAKLAND, Calif. -- They were having a good time laughing at the Jets, whom they had just vanquished 30-10. And they were making sure to praise the Titans, whom they host next Sunday in the AFC Championship.

But when the idea was broached in the Oakland locker room Sunday night, several Raiders acknowledged the enticing appeal of what could lie ahead with one more win: a Super Bowl matchup with the Bucs and former coach Jon Gruden.

"That would be beautiful," said defensive end Regan Upshaw, a former Buc. "I have a lot of love for Gruden and I've got a lot of love for the guys I played with in Tampa, but I don't forget how they did me. So I can't wait. I can't wait."

Another former Buc, guard Frank Middleton, was equally excited. "I would love to have a chance to play those guys," he said. "It's nothing personal, I just want to play them. I love all those guys. I love everyone from Tampa. We had a lot of good years together. I would love it."

As many players as there were who said the thought hadn't crossed their mind ("I don't even know who won today," Lincoln Kennedy claimed) and those who refused to let it ("We got to beat Tennessee first," receiver Jerry Porter said. "We beat Tennessee and then we worry about it. ... We've got to beat Tennessee. ... That's my story and I'm sticking to it"), there were others who admitted the obvious.

"It would be a lovely match," fullback Zack Crockett said of a Raiders vs. Gruden Super Bowl, then added the obligatory, "but we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves." Safety Anthony Dorsett said, "we've got to get there before we can even talk about it. (The Bucs are) trying to do the same thing we're doing. It would make great media play, wouldn't it? We've got to concentrate on Tennessee. If we're fortunate enough to make it through next week and Tampa Bay does the same, then we'll see them in San Diego."

The way the Raiders played Sunday, they look like they are going to be there.

Their defense throttled Jets rising star quarterback Chad Pennington, forcing four turnovers and implementing at least a temporary embargo on the comparisons to Joe Namath and Joe Montana.

And their top-rated offense went into impressive quick-strike mode to break open a game that was 10-10 at halftime, with league MVP Rich Gannon throwing for two touchdowns in a five-minute stretch midway through the second half.

Oakland coach Bill Callahan, who took over when Gruden left (literally) in the middle of the night for the Bucs, said the Raiders wanted to establish more of vertical passing game, and they did it well.

Two plays -- two similar plays -- stood out, with Gannon using a pump fake to momentarily freeze the New York defense, then hitting Porter racing down the left side. The first, two plays after an interception of Pennington late in the third quarter, was a 29-yard touchdown that put the Raiders up 17-10.

After the Jets failed on fourth and 3 at the Oakland 35, Gannon hooked up with Porter on a 50-yard play, and Jerry Rice scored a career postseason record-tying touchdown three plays later on a 9-yard catch.

The Raiders were annoyed at the volume of hype that preceded the Jets to the Black Hole and insulted they weren't getting credit for compiling an AFC-best 11-5 record. They were especially sick of hearing how the Jets, who finished 7-2, were the hottest team in the game.

"It was like no one gave us the chance to beat the Jets," cornerback Charles Woodson said. "That ticked all of us off in this locker room. We got tired of all the hype. If you didn't know we had won the West, you would not even know we were in the game. It was J-E-T-S. That's all it was.

Added Porter: "J-E-T-S. Just End The Season."

Middleton couldn't resist a further dig, going back to the comment from New York lineman Dave Szott that the Jets didn't lose the Dec. 2 game at Oakland but instead ran out of time.

"Time is out," Middleton said. "Time is out on their season. I guess they ran out of time again."

Pennington, in one of those only-in-New-York stories, had reached near legendary status after replacing Vinny Testaverde as the starter in midseason. He had a few impressive moments Sunday but looked very much like a first-year starter going up against a veteran defense.

"This is championship football, and one cannot have turnovers," Jets coach Herm Edwards said. "The second half we fell apart a little bit. We gave the Raiders opportunities and they took advantage of them. ... Chad will probably tell you he did not have one of his better days. But a lot of people on our team did not have one of their better days. You cannot make the errors we made against a good club like Oakland."

Pennington knew he was the problem, but he didn't know what the problem was. "There's a saying that the way that a quarterback goes, so does the team," Pennington said. "I didn't go today."

He hadn't thrown an interception since the Dec. 2 game against Oakland, and the two picks matched his total for the previous 10 games.

For this week, the Raiders will talk extensively about taking advantage of the opportunity of being in the AFC Championship for the second time in three years.

And they'll insist they are focusing on the Titans, whom they blasted 52-25 in Week 4 but whom Callahan described as "a very tough task and a tough challenge."

Gannon already started it, saying, "I think the guys know that the football team we're playing next week is a different team than we played nine or 10 weeks ago.

But all know what could be possible if the Bucs can win in Philadelphia and they win here.

"Come see me next week," Middleton said. "If they're still playing and we're still playing, I'll give you everything you want to know."

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