What the Oakland press had to say
This was the blowout, however slight, that Al Davis demanded, an unforgiving and emphatic Raiders' statement Sunday night that their self-proclaimed legacy of greatness remains intact despite the disaster of last season. The hated Tampa Bay Buccaneers, coached by perceived traitor Jon Gruden, and including a horde of former Raiders players, were overpowered 30-20 before a black-clad crowd of 60,874 at the Coliseum, and a little of that Super Bowl XXXVII pain was finally soothed.
The cost was one quarterback, and the introduction of the long-anticipated controversy as to who is better suited to run Norv Turner's vertical offense. Starter Rich Gannon's highly scrutinized run behind center may have ended, not by design, but because of a first-quarter tackle by the Bucs' Derrick Brooks that wrenched his neck and upper back.
With 2 minutes, 56 seconds remaining in the first quarter, in came high-priced backup Kerry Collins, and there was a sense that the Gannon era might be a thing of the past.
Though Collins, 32, threw for only one touchdown, a 19-yard toss to an exuberant Ronald Curry late in the second quarter that lifted the Raiders to a 13-6 halftime advantage, he moved the team efficiently and at times explosively. His ability to stay in the pocket and wait for open receivers was evident, and wide receiver Jerry Porter, with five catches for 84 yards, had the big night he had waited for. "Well, that took about three seconds,'' quipped Turner, who was asked almost immediately whether Collins' performance coming in cold off the bench -- completing 16-of-27 passes for 228 yards, one touchdown and one interception, a fourth-quarter mistake in the red zone -- was good enough to keep him as the starting quarterback.
The initial diagnosis on Gannon was a possible concussion, but Turner said it was in fact a neck injury that kept him sidelined. X-rays proved negative, and the bleary eyed former MVP stoically watched from the sideline while the Raiders improved to 2-1. There had been enough subplots simmering the week before to keep the tension thick, and some of the drama extended through the game. Former Raiders running back Charlie Garner, now the Bucs' starter, was knocked out for the season after a gruesome second-quarter collapse on his right knee. Longtime "Mr. Raider" Tim Brown, sent packing in training camp after 16 seasons in silver and black, got his coveted 100th career touchdown catch with 10:45 remaining in the fourth quarter.
By kickoff, however, the rivalry and the relationships mostly faded and the hitting began, with the Raiders delivering the kind of dominant performance they anticipated. "We wanted to be the more physical team today,'' said Turner, who saw his team falter late in the fourth and allow the Bucs to pull closer with quarterback Brad Johnson's 41-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Bill Schroeder. "And I believe we were in all phases.''
With a rare Bay Area television appearance and a national ESPN audience hoping for some grudge-match fisticuffs, the Raiders instead accomplished their primary objective: proving to the masses that they're light years better than the 4-12 team that complained and bungled its way through 2003. "We knew there would be a lot of headlines coming into the game and we were knocked out of the national spotlight except for this game,'' said linebacker Akbar Gbaja-Biamila, who had a sack. "And we showed that we're tough defensively and offensively.''
The first inkling: After Tampa Bay drove 58 yards on its opening drive toward a 36-yard Martin Gramatica field goal, Tyrone Wheatley, awakening a dormant Raiders' running game, soon answered by bursting through a hole up the middle for a 60-yard gain. The end result was a 23-yard Sebastian Janikowski field goal that tied the game 3-3 with 5:36 remaining in the first quarter. Wheatley finished with a benchmark 102-yard rushing performance, and the Raiders ended up with 173 net yards on the ground.
But their offense would soon take on a new identity. Collins took a minute to gather himself, but soon began sending the ball all over the field, as 11 receivers pulled in his passes. His first drive led to a 40-yard Janikowski field goal. "When I first went in, there were a couple of things where I didn't feel in sync,'' Collins said. "But as the night wore on I really felt that I was finding a little bit of a rhythm. The biggest thing for me tonight was the offensive line -- they gave me incredible amounts of time.''
Johnson wasn't so lucky. With only Mike Alstott to fuel the running game, little pass protection up front and no game-breaking receivers either open or in uniform - Keenan McCardell, where are you? - Tampa Bay's offense stayed out of the end zone for the season's first 11 quarters, until Brown's fourth-quarter scoring catch. The Raiders' defense had blitzed and harassed the Bucs into submission, and Collins soon went to work. Jerry Rice's 18-yard one-handed grab set up the touchdown pass to Curry with 1:16 remaining before the break. A 39-yard Janikowski field goal in the third quarter pushed the lead to 16-6.
Then, one 1st-and-10 at the Bucs' 31, Johnson's bad night got a whole lot worse. He sat back and threw a telegraphed, painstakingly late ball in the direction of tight end Dave Moore.
It was prime pickings for cornerback Phillip Buchanon, who sat back his usual 10 yards off the receiver, ran forward when he saw the ball coming and took the easy interception 32 yards into the end zone for a 23-6 Raiders lead with 8:06 left in the third.
By then, Tampa Bay (0-3) could do nothing right. A four-and-out waste of time set up yet another Raiders' scoring drive. And this time, there was no more pretense. They drove the ball hard downfield, through the air, with Collins spraying the ball along the flats to J.R. Redmond (12 yards) Alvis Whitted (20 yards) and Porter (21 yards). Even the guys in the striped shirts cooperated for a change. When Amos Zereoue was stopped almost cold on 3rd-and-goal at the 3, a face mask penalty on Bucs free safety Jermaine Phillips gave the Raiders a first down and cut the distance in half. From there, Wheatley's 2-yard scoring plunge with 3:42 left in the third made it 30-6, Raiders.
Bay Area News 27 September 2004