OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders did more than "Just win, baby!"
They did it their way, blending a renegade past with a pass-happy present to defeat the Tennessee Titans 41-24 on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.
Rich Gannon, the 37-year-old league MVP, led the way with three touchdown passes and another score he ran in himself.
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"I've been looking at this game for 14 years and watching other people go," Brown said. "Now, I'm finally on my way. It's a great feeling."
It will be a Silver and Black championship game, tinged with more than just a touch of gray.
The veteran Raiders -- the team built to win right now -- will go for their fourth Super Bowl title next Sunday in San Diego. They'll play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who beat the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 in the NFC Championship Game earlier in the day.
Oakland's oft-touted "Commitment to Excellence" will be tested by a coach who knows it well -- Jon Gruden, who left the Raiders for the Bucs after last season.
"How ya doing, Coach?," Raiders receiver Jerry Porter quipped. "I'll see ya later."
Gruden looked forward to the reunion, too.
"I've got a lot of respect for where I come from," he said. "I do have some close relationships with some of those players."
Gruden's last game with the Raiders ended with a spirit-sapping loss in the snow in New England. It came after an apparent fumble the Raiders recovered late in the game was ruled an incomplete pass, and it provided these Raiders even more motivation.
Sunday was a clear, perfect day at a stadium known as the Black Hole, and the Raiders looked as much like the swashbuckling bad boys they once were as the new high-tech team they have become.
The old: 14 penalties for 127 yards, a handful of cheap shots and a bevy of vicious hits on Steve McNair, who paid a huge price for his 194 yards passing and two rushing touchdowns.
The new: Unbelievably, Oakland called exactly one running play over the first three quarters, leaving the work to Gannon, who threw 41 times for 286 yards and scrambled for 41 more, including a fourth-quarter touchdown.
"We were making a lot of dumb mistakes out there," Oakland linebacker Eric Barton said. "Fortunately, we sucked it up and stopped it. That shows the character of this team."
The Raiders took the lead for good late in the second quarter, when Barton stripped Tennessee's Robert Holcombe, giving Oakland the ball at the Tennessee 16. Two plays later, Gannon hit tight end Doug Jolley for a score and a 21-17 lead.
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Oakland tackled punter Craig Hentrich to set up a field goal for a 10-point lead in the third.
McNair was then at his gutsy, gritty best, leading the Titans on a 67-yard touchdown drive to make it 27-24.
Tennessee appeared to be stopped on that drive, but Terrance Shaw got called for a personal foul, Oakland's fourth of the game. On the next play, McNair ran in from 13 yards for his second score.
"McNair played like a true warrior today," said Oakland's first-year coach, Bill Callahan. "He had no quit in him, no die in him."
But the Raiders kept picking on Tennessee's pass defense, rated 25th in the regular season. Gannon led Oakland on a 66-yard drive and ran in for a 34-24 lead.
That drive, like this game, was nothing pretty, but then again, Davis has never demanded perfection.
The unspoken message in "Just win, baby!" has always been Davis' desire to field a team that could pull out even the ugly games.
In that vein, he signed a group of veterans who had endured a lot in this league. Mere penalties and a hot quarterback weren't going to be enough to halt this Super Bowl run.
"We fought all year long," Rice said. "When we lost four straight games, this team stuck together and now we're going to the Super Bowl."
The Raiders weren't alone with a four-game losing streak this season.
The Titans also endured one, and this was just their second loss since Oct. 6, when they fell to Washington and dropped to 1-4.
"We proved that you can come back," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "That's what they did, too. They came back this year. We gave it everything we had today. It wasn't good enough."
In Tennessee, and maybe only in Tennessee, the Titans were given a chance. It was based largely on their hot streak and the fact they had done this before -- a 33-14 victory in Jacksonville three years ago when most people counted them out.
But Eddie George, still possibly recovering from a concussion from last week, never got going. He finished with 67 yards.
The defense and special teams were suspect, too. And while this was nowhere near the 52-25 beating Tennessee took here in September, 41 points were way too many for McNair to match by himself.
"We can hang our hat on the fact we were 30 minutes from getting to the Super Bowl," tight end Frank Wycheck said.
For the Raiders, this trip is especially sweet considering their recent playoff past.
There was the New England game last year. And two seasons ago, they had home-field advantage in the title game, but the Baltimore Ravens brought one of the NFL's best-ever defenses to town, knocked Gannon out of the game and left the Raiders empty.
This time, there was no denying the team Davis built to win -- and win now.
Brown will go to the Super Bowl for the first time in his sterling career. He led the Raiders with nine catches for 73 yards.
Rice will go for his fourth title. He made five catches, including two that gave the Raiders first downs inside the 10, en route to touchdowns.
"This is, what, Jerry Rice's 75th Super Bowl?" Porter said. "It feels good to get Tim Brown to the Super Bowl. That was one of the team goals."
They wanted to get Davis back there, too.
The team's eccentric, 73-year-old architect will get a long-awaited trip to the game he, in part, created. He helped engineer the AFL-NFL merger and then became the thorn in the league's side, moving his team twice and suing the NFL while he was at it.
For all the trouble he's caused, many in football think the NFL is a better place when the Raiders are doing well. If that's the case, then the league is enjoying a mighty fine year.
The Associated Press News Service
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