League MVP Rich Gannon and the Raiders showed why this season might be different from all the others since 1983 with a 30-10 playoff rout Sunday. They knew the surest road to the AFC championship game was to stay at home and avoid tuck rules and snowy night games in New England.
|Raiders DE DeLawrence Grant's sack adds to Chad Pennington's rough day. (AP)|
"These chances are very rare," veteran All-Pro safety Rod Woodson said. "I think we are a mature team that understands what we have here."
What they have is the opportunity to re-establish their "Commitment to Excellence."
That chance has been there before -- two years ago, when they lost at home to Baltimore for the conference title, and last season, when Tom Brady and the controversial tuck rule did them in at New England.
"We've been this far before," said Jerry Porter , who outperformed his more illustrious teammates at wide receiver, Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. "It's time to go farther."
Porter caught a 29-yard touchdown pass and set up Rice's 9-yard score with a 50-yard reception as the Raiders (12-5) made it a clean sweep for the home teams this weekend. Gannon began going downfield in the second half after a 10-10 tie, and it paid off.
"We didn't throw the ball deep a lot this year, so it was exciting we were able to do some of that," Brown said. "At halftime, the coaches said we were going to do what we do best, and that's to throw."
The Jets had the most efficient thrower in the league, Chad Pennington, but he had a miserable day. Pennington, in his first season as a starter, had a 104.2 rating. But against Oakland he was 21-of-47 for 183 yards and a 44.9 rating.
"There's a saying that as the quarterback goes, so does the team. I didn't go today," said Pennington, who threw two interceptions -- as many as he had in the last 10 games combined - and lost two fumbles. "I was struggling all day long. I don't know why. It's one of those things I have to learn from, and have a short-term memory."
The Raiders, winners of eight of their last nine games, got pickoffs from Tory James and Eric Barton in the second half. They also recovered the two fumbles by Pennington in earning their second trip to the AFC title game in three years. In the 2000 season, they lost at home to Baltimore 16-3 for the conference crown.
Their most painful loss came at the Patriots last January in the infamous tuck-rule game when an apparent late fumble by quarterback Tom Brady was later ruled an incomplete pass. New England, of course, went on to win the Super Bowl.
Now, the Raiders think it is their turn.
"I am trying to seize the moment, seize the opportunity. Of course, three other teams are trying to do the same thing," said Gannon, who finished 20-of-30 for 283 yards.
|Jeff Rice celebrates his 21st postseason TD with linemen Frank Middleton and Barry Sims (65). (AP)|
"I'm just happy to be playing football with a team that is very hungry," Rice said.
Oakland's defense harassed the usually unflappable Pennington and sacked him four times, twice by Rod Coleman.
After a strong first half, Pennington came undone, throwing high, forcing passes and looking rattled.
"He was trying to do too much," Coleman said. "We were coming, so he had to start forcing stuff."
The Raiders beat the Jets for the third time in four games at home in the last year, and for the second straight time ended the Jets' season here in a playoff game. These teams have had some of the most memorable and bitter meetings in NFL history, but this game was a lopsided Raiders celebration.
"I'm already over this one," Porter said. "Now, it's Tennessee."
The game was tied 10-10 at halftime. But after James' leaping sideline interception at the Jets 45, Gannon went downfield. He hit Brown for 16 yards, then found Porter streaking down the left sideline against a zone defense. Porter caught the ball in stride for a 29-yard touchdown.
Oakland stopped the Jets on a fourth-and-3 when wide receiver Wayne Chrebet, who struggled all game, slipped on his pattern. Gannon then connected with Porter over the middle for 50 yards. It took three more plays for Gannon to hit Rice in the back of the end zone.
Richie Anderson dropped a handoff despite not being hit on the next series, with Pennington blamed for the fumble. But Damien Robinson intercepted Gannon's next pass.
The Raiders returned the favor when Barton made a sideline interception, setting up Sebastian Janikowski's 34-yard field goal. Janikowski added a 31-yarder for the final score.
New York (10-8), which scored at least 30 points in each of its last three games, got going early on Curtis Martin's 15-yard run and a 20-yard pass-interference penalty against Charles Woodson.
John Hall's 38-yard field goal made it 3-0 four minutes into the game before Janikowski tied it from 29 yards about five minutes later.
Then the ball got slippery. As he scrambled, Pennington had it knocked from his hands by Travian Smith, who recovered at the Jets 27. Two plays later, Charlie Garner bobbled a handoff, but guard Frank Middleton fell on it when Jets defensive end John Abraham failed to scoop up the loose ball.
It was Garner's first fumble in 387 touches, but it didn't hurt his team. Moments later, Zack Crockett, Oakland's short-yardage specialist, scored his 10th touchdown of the season, from the 1.
An impressive 81-yard, 7-minute drive on which Pennington was 8-of-9 for 51 yards, tied it with 22 seconds left in the half. He converted four third downs with passes before hitting wide-open Jerald Sowell in the flat for a 1-yard score.
- Rice's 15-yard catch in the fourth quarter that gave him 2,133 postseason yards broke Thurman Thomas' NFL mark of 2,124. Rice's 21st postseason touchdown tied him with Thomas and Emmitt Smith.
- Janikowski missed a field goal wide left from 28 yards, his shortest miss since failing from 27 on Oct. 20.
- The Raiders qualified for their 14th AFC/AFL title game. They have won four.
- The Jets' nervousness showed early with two motion penalties and two delay of games.
- Oakland kicked away from dangerous return men Chad Morton and Santana Moss, although Morton had a late 49-yard kickoff return.
The Associated Press News Service
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