Anyone who witnessed the game, however, knows that the Oakland Raiders (2-1) outplayed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers worse than the final score suggested as the Bucs got two garbage-time touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Those touchdowns were their first on the offensive side this season.
The Raiders, who visit the Houston Texans Sunday, also discovered first-hand that their backup quarterback Kerry Collins can perform when needed and that the running can be a viable strength for an offense that emphasizes such.
First, let's start with Collins, who has assured everyone that he would be ready when needed. He replaced injured starter Rich Gannon and calmly led Oakland. Collins had plenty of support from a Raider rushing attack that produced 173 yards (102 courtesy of Tyrone Wheatley) after being dormant the first two weeks of the season.
"I just tried to keep my emotions in check and tried to lean on my experience," Collins said. "Fortunately, it happened fairly fast, so I didn't have a lot of time to think about it. As the night wore on I felt like I was finding a little bit of a rhythm."
Collins entered late in the first quarter and replaced Gannon, who left after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit from linebacker Derrick Brooks. Turner said Gannon hurt his neck, but added the injury does not appear to be serious. How that effects Gannon‘s status for next week remains to be seen.
Gannon ran two yards during Oakland's first offensive series, and was stopped at the Tampa Bay 5 by Brooks. Gannon grimaced in pain but walked off the field under his own power. He was taken to the locker room for examination of his back, then returned to the sideline in the second half.
"I know this, Rich Gannon is a tough guy, and if he's ready to go next week he'll be in there," Collins said. "I'm just glad it wasn't real, real serious. Any time you get hit in the head like that, bad things can happen. I think Rich Gannon will be back before we know it."
Collins led four scoring drives and completed 16-of-27 passes for 228 yards and a 19-yard touchdown pass to Ronald Curry. Wheatley added a touchdown run and cornerback Phillip Buchanon put the game out of reach with a 36-yard interception return to pay dirt.
The Raiders spoiled Gruden's return to Oakland, where he coach for four seasons, along with that of longtime Oakland receiver Tim Brown and running back Charlie Garner, who was likely lost for the season with a torn patellar tendon in his right knee. Brown's 16-yard touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter was the 100th of his career and he drew cheers from the Coliseum crowd. The Raiders released Brown in training camp because they felt the veteran's skills were declining and that the team had young receivers ready to contribute.
Oakland defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who signed as a free agent from Tampa Bay in the off season had an active game. He also took pleasure in beating the team he helped transform from sad sacks to contenders.
"Big buildup, great game and the right outcome," Sapp said. "It felt like deja vu at times. ... There's nothing like wanting to go after them."
The Gruden-led Bucs beat the Raiders 48-21 in Super Bowl XXXVII. That win was only 20 months ago but with Tampa Bay at 0-3, it seems like eons ago now.
Gruden coach dressed in all black but the colors might as well have represented the death of his team's offense. Gruden was on the field early to greet friends, then was booed when he ran onto the field before the game. Gruden ran right past Raiders owner Al Davis without stopping.
"I don't mean any disrespect. I wasn't greeted very nicely," Gruden said. "I've got a full understanding of Raiders fans and the Black Hole. God bless them. ... It was a great feeling for me. It is one of the more exciting times in my career to go back where I came from."
While Sunday night does not erase the Super Bowl debacle, the Raiders rejoiced in humbling their former leader.
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org