Raiders shank one away to Tennessee

For the first 13 games this season Sebastian Janikowski had been everything the Raiders hoped he would be when they made him their first-round draft pick a year ago. Against Tennessee on Saturday night, however, Janikowski came crashing back to earth and brought the rest of the Raiders with him. Oakland's kicker missed three field goals against the Titans, including a 42-yarder with six seconds remaining that allowed Tennessee to escape with a 13-10 win.

Instead of heading into the Christmas holidays needing just one more win to lock up a first-round bye, the Raiders now find themselves struggling to hold on to the No. 2 seed with three losses in their last seven games. Not that they were totally outplayed by the Titans. Oakland's defense played well for the second consecutive week and the offense -- despite sleep-walking through the first 43 minutes of the game -- put up a respectable 311 yards. But when it came to scoring, the Raiders couldn't cash in and were held to their lowest point total since scoring nine in the 2000 season-opener. Janikowski made one field goal from 35 yards out but missed from 40, 33 and 42 yards away. Although Janikowski has been bothered by a groin injury and missed practice one day last week for personal reasons, head coach Jon Gruden blamed the misses on Janikowski's timing. ''I'm not going to blame his lack of accuracy on anything other than I believe he was a little abrupt, quick, in his approach,'' said Gruden. ''I believe the film will show that. Normally when he does that, he gets inaccurate. If that sounds familiar, it should. As a rookie Janikowski struggled with his approaches and spent most of training camp this year working on slowing down. The problem appeared to be a moot point when Janikowski got off to a hot start this year with 21 field goals in 23 tries. But the three misses against Tennessee brought it all crashing back. ''I think the timing was a little too fast,'' said Janikowski, whose only misses before Saturday had come from 59 yards and 41, the latter of which was blocked. ''The whole season (the timing) has been perfect but it just seems like today I was rushing. It just wasn't my day. Kicks like that you should make.'' It would hard to blame Janikowski entirely. The offense didn't score until less than two minutes remained in the third quarter and failed to take advantage of great field position for most of the game. The Raiders punted on their first two possessions after gaining 38 yards combined. Adding to the Raiders struggles was the fact that Gannon injured his right (throwing) hand on the first drive of the game. Gannon was hit on a third-down play by Tennessee safety Daryl Porter when the Titans came in an all-out blitz. Gannon grimaced and clutched his hand as he walked off the field. Though he returned, he was clearly not the same quarterback who had been the NFL's top-rated quarterback through the first 14 weeks of the regular season. Several of Gannon's passes were either off target or missed high and his 12 incompletions in the first half were more than he had total in eight of Oakland's first 13 games. A clear example of Gannon's struggles in the first half came in the second quarter after a Tory James interception of a Steve McNair pass gave the Raiders the ball at the Titans' 42-yard line. One play later Gannon tried to force a pass deep down the middle of the field to tight end Jeremy Brigham but the ball was underthrown and intercepted by Tennessee linebacker Eddie Robinson. ''We didn't play well in the first half,'' said Gannon, who finished the game 29-for-50 for 249 yards. ''We didn't convert our third downs and we didn't make enough plays tonight. You're not going to score 40 points every week, especially this time of the year. Things tighten up.'' Gannon's off night was a big reason the Raiders struggled to get their offense going despite getting great field position for most fo the first half. The Titans entered the game ranked 25th overall in the NFL and was yielding an average of 24.1 points a game, fourth-highest in the league. Yet they took Oakland into halftime with a scoreless tie and were giving up nothing to the playoff-bound Raiders. Twice Oakland began drives at its own 42 and a third drive started at Tennessee's 42. Yet the Raiders moved no closer than the Titans' 37 on their first four possessions. With Tennessee's own offense struggling, the game surprisingly turned into a defensive standoff. Oakland couldn't even score after marching from its own 17 to the Titans 22 during a 15-play, 7 1/2-minute play late in the second quarter. After Zack Crockett was stopped one yard shy of a first down on consecutive plays, Janikowski shanked a 40-yard field goal wide left. That was the type of night it was. Fortunately for the Raiders their defense had another solid night, following up on their big performance a week earlier in the win over San Diego when they held the Chargers without a touchdown and completely shut down their running game. Tennessee managed just 64 yards in total offense during the first half, while running back Eddie George was held to 15 yards on seven carries. The Titans biggest offensive play came early in the third quarter when Oakland cornerback Eric Allen was called for a 36-yard pass interference penalty on a third-down pass by McNair for wide receiver Drew Bennett. That set the Titans up at the Raiders' nine-yard line but they couldn't do much with it and settled for a 27-yard field goal by Joe Nedney, the same kicker who spent part of the 1999 season with Oakland before being released the following year in training camp. The Raiders continued to sputter on offense in the second half, while Tennessee started picking up steam. Oakland went three-and-out on its first drive of the third quarter and gave the Titans the ball at their own 18. Skip Hicks, who rushed for a career-high 142 yards in last week's win over Green Bay, came on to spell George and sparked Tennessee's offense by carrying five times for 32 yards before McNair found wide receiver Kevin Dyson streaking down the middle of the field for a 30-yard touchdown. At that point the Raiders were forced to abandon the running game and rest the offense on the arm of Gannon, even though he had been clearly not his normal self. Whatever the case, Gannon responded when Oakland got the ball back after Dyson's touchdown. He completed his first three passes then caught a break when wide receiver Jerry Rice made a one-handed grab of an overthrown pass and turned it into a 40-yard completion. That set the Raiders up at the Titans' five-yard line and two plays later Gannon hit tight end Roland Williams with a four-yard touchdown pass that helped cut the lead to 10-7. On Tennessee's very next play from scrimmage McNair badly overthrew tight end Frank Wycheck and the ball landed in the arms of Oakland cornerback Eric Allen, who returned the interception 20 yards to the Titans' 22-yard line. But the Raiders could only move five yards -- all five coming on an offsides penalty -- and settled for a 35-yard field goal from Janikowski to tie the game at 10. Oakland's defense, so maligned over the past two months, kept the pressure on the Titans on their next possession. George was stopped for no gain, then McNair threw an incompletion before being dropped for an eight-yard sack by Darrell Russell. But the Raiders' offense, again blessed with great field position, came away with nothing to show for it. Oakland drove down to the Titans' nine-yard line before being pushed back to the 15, then watched as Janikowski pushed a 33-yard field goal attempt wide left. Janikowski's missed kick proved critical as it prevented the Raiders from taking their first lead of the game and set Tennessee up for what would be its game-winning drive. The Titans drove from their own 23 down to Oakland's three, where Nedney kicked a 21-yard field goal to provide the winning margin. ''The bottom line is we didn't step up when we needed to,'' said linebacker Greg Biekert. ''We gave up three points with two minutes to go against a team whose defense was playing great the whole game. You can't do that. ''You have to demand at the end of the game to play better than you have the whole game. Not just a little bit better or the same. That's how you put teams away.'' -30-

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