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Raiders refuse to give the Bucs their due

Rather than dish out credit to Tampa Bay, Oakland looks at its flaws.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2003


SAN DIEGO -- Just whine, baby.

Having been manhandled by a Bucs defense that had five sacks, five interceptions and a whole bunch of fun, the Raiders spat out cursory credit but insisted the inept performance by their league-leading offense Sunday had more to do with their mistakes than Tampa Bay's dominating effort.

"I really felt it was us," coach Bill Callahan said. "I thought, for one reason or another, we just couldn't get our rhythm going. ... I don't think they took us out (of rhythm), I just felt we didn't execute. We didn't come out of the gate fast. We didn't start the way we normally start."

You think that might have had something to do with the Bucs' ferocious pass rush? Or the blanket coverage by their secondary? Or the way they relentlessly pursue the ball? Or the way they countered -- and, in some cases, anticipated -- every Oakland change? You could even suggest it had something to do with the loss of starting center Barret Robbins, who was sent home for disciplinary reasons, but the Raiders insisted that wasn't a major deal either.

So what was the Raiders biggest problem? According to veteran tackle Lincoln Kennedy, it was that they were inexplicably flat early on, especially after netting only a field goal after an opening-drive interception gave them the ball on the Tampa Bay 36.

"We didn't come out with a lot of fire, a lot of passion," Kennedy said. "We weren't the same offensive team we were earlier this year. We're a ballclub that usually gets off to a fast start and puts pressure on the opposite team. On that first drive, we were looking forward to seven and we settled for the field goal."

Just like in baseball, when good pitching beats good hitting, the Raiders found that good defense beats a good offense.

"We knew it was going to come down to how we played against their defense, and obviously we didn't play well enough," quarterback Rich Gannon said. "I made some bad decisions, and that's just the way it was."

The same Raiders who averaged 390 yards, including 280 in the air, couldn't get anywhere against the Bucs.

"We were just absolutely terrible," Gannon said. "A nightmarish performance."

The Raiders finished with 269 yards of offense, and a big chunk of that (115 yards) came in the fourth quarter when they briefly rallied.

"They have a good defense with a killer attitude, but we didn't play our A game," said guard Frank Middleton, a former Buc.

Oakland had problems all over the field. The usually sturdy offensive line, with Adam Treu replacing Robbins, couldn't protect Gannon. The Bucs sacked Gannon five times, matching the Oakland season-high, and were in his face, and around his ankles, a number of other times.

"They just generated pressure with their front four, and I didn't get it done," Kennedy said. "I didn't give Rich time. We got a couple sacks and got behind the 8 ball early on."

As a result, Gannon didn't look anything like the league's most valuable player, completing only 24 of 44 passes. In the biggest game of the season, he turned in one of his worst performances, throwing for 272 yards and a season-high and Super Bowl-record five interceptions.

"We knew going in it was going to be our toughest challenge of the year," Gannon said. "I don't have any other answers for you other than we were out of synch."

Little the Raiders tried worked. When they went to the no-huddle, which has been their most effective approach, the Bucs made all the right adjustments, thanks in huge part to coach Jon Gruden's recollections.

"They were kind of on our plays a little bit," Middleton said. "Gruden pretty much gave them the playbook, and they were grooving with it."

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