That is except for Indianapolis, only a few short hours away from where Gruden attended high school. For the second straight season, the Raiders went into the RCA Dome and stunned the Colts. And just like last season, it was seldom-used cornerback Tory James who came up big in the end for Oakland, intercepting a Peyton Manning pass with 55 seconds remaining to preserve the Raiders 23-18 victory. It was James who intercepted a pair of Manning passes last season, including one in the end zone to help preserve Oakland's 38-31 victory. James interception Sunday was equally important as it killed the Colts final scoring opportunity and helped move the Raiders into sole possession of first place in the AFC West.
‘'It was a huge play,'' said Gruden of James interception. ‘'We got some pressure and forced Manning to make an awkward throw. Tory James was deployed perfectly and made the play.'' The win over Indianapolis enabled Oakland to move one game up on Denver, Seattle and San Diego in the AFC West. All of those teams are 3-2. But the Raiders have next week off before preparing for an Oct. 28 road game at Philadelphia.
The Raiders will head into the City of Brotherly Love feeling a lot better about their prospects on the road after pulling off their second win in Indianapolis in as many years. Since Gruden took over as head coach in 1998 Oakland had only been a .500 team on the road. The Raiders lost three of their last four away games in 2000 and had split their first two road games this year heading into Indianapolis.
‘'We felt we had a good plan,'' said quarterback Rich Gannon, who threw for 243 yards and engineered four scoring drives but only one of which ended in a touchdown. ‘'I felt like we left some yards out on the field. We dropped some balls. We had a turnover that hurt us a little bit. I thought we had a chance to have a really good night against a good team on the road. We did just enough to get a win.''
Oakland's offense had no problem moving the ball against Indianapolis' defense in the first half, but as generally has been the case this season, the Raiders struggled getting into the end zone. Quarterback Rich Gannon engineered drives of 54 and 59 yards but Oakland was forced to settle for a pair of Sebastian Janikowski field goals. Janikowski, who had five stitches above his right eye after an incident at a night club following the Raiders win over Dallas a week earlier, converted from 34 and 42 yards, extending his streak of successful kicks this season to 10 straight. The Colts offense, the NFL's top-ranked unit heading into the game, was slow coming out of the blocks and had to punt on its first two drives before getting going. With running back Edgerrin James carrying three times for 28 yards, Indianapolis moved from its own 30 down to Oakland's 29 before Mike Vanderjagt's 47-yard field goal capped the drive and pulled the Colts within 6-3. Indianapolis' defense held the Raiders on the next series but on the Colts third play after, Manning threw a pass intended for tight end Marcus Pollard that wound up instead landing in the hands of Oakland safety Anthony Dorsett. Dorsett had no one between he and the end zone and easily raced 39 yards for the touchdown, upping Oakland's lead to 13-3.
Though the interception wasn't directly Manning's fault -- Pollard was seen afterward apologizing to the quarterback -- it was the eighth interception of the season for the Colts quarterback and the fourth that has been returned for a touchdown this year.
‘'We were trying to disguise our coverages all day,'' said Dorsett, who also had an interception return for a touchdown in Oakland's loss to Miami earlier this year. ‘'We schemed it to where I was going to come down late. (Manning) probably thought I was going to blitz.'' Manning would get a bit of revenge just before halftime when he directed a quick and efficient 65-yard scoring drive in just 1:15 minutes. Completing five straight pass attempts and getting an additional 15 yards on a late hit by Raiders defensive end Regan Upshaw, Manning moved the Colts down to Oakland's 3-yard line then lofted a perfectly thrown strike over Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson and into the hands of wide receiver Marvin Harrison for the touchdown. Vanderjagt missed the extra point attempt, however, and Indianapolis trailed 13-9.
The Raiders took one last shot in the first half, getting down to the Colts 41-yard line where Janikowski lined up for a 59-yard field goal. The field goal would have been a team record but was short and wide left, Janikowski's first miss this season. Oakland added to its lead in the third quarter when running back Tyrone Wheatley dove over from a yard out, capping a short 54-yard scoring drive. Wheatley's touchdown was set up by a 32-yard completion from Gannon to wide receiver Tim Brown, whom the Colts had trouble covering all night. Brown torched Indianapolis' secondary for 145 yards on four catches.
But the pesky Colts would not go quietly into the night. Trailing 20-9 Manning got the offense going with a 78-yard drive midway through the third quarter, completing three of his first four passes to push the ball down to Oakland's 6-yard line. From there, Manning fired a pass for tight end Ken Dilger but the ball slipped through Dilger's hands and into those of wide receiver Marvin Harrison, who was standing just inside the back of the end zone. Indianapolis opted to go for the two-point conversion in hopes of closing to within a field goal of the Raiders but Edgerrin James was stopped shy of the goal line and the Colts came away empty, trailing 20-15. But on Oakland's very next possession Wheatley fumbled a pitch from Gannon and the Colts recovered, setting up a 34-yard Vanderjagt field goal that pulled Indianapolis within 20-18.
The two teams traded punts to open the fourth quarter before Oakland put together its final scoring drive of the game. Starting at their own 20 the Raiders drove all the way down to the Colts' 11-yard line before Gannon was dropped for an 11-yard sack on third-down-and-four. That forced them to settle for another Janikowski field goal, this one from 37 yards out, pushing their lead to 23-18 and setting the stage for James' late heroics.