Raiders flip the switch, roll past Jets
In a classic performance reminiscent of his vintage years with San Francisco, Rice hauled in 183 yards in receptions, scored one touchdown and set up another while carrying the Raiders to a 38-24 win over the Jets in a first-round AFC wild card playoff game before a raucous standing-room-only crowd of 61,503. Charlie Garner, Rice's teammate with the 49ers for the last two years before also signing on with Oakland as a free agent, also had his biggest game as a member of the Raiders. Garner, who sat out practice all week with a foot injury, rushed for a season-high 158 yards on 15 carries, including a game-sealing 81-yard touchdown run in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Together, Rice and Garner provided the Raiders with all the push they needed to end a three-game losing streak and, at least temporarily, quiet critics who had been hounding the team for their late-season collapse. ''I had fun today,'' said Rice, who repeatedly scorched the Jets secondary with picture-perfect routes that left him as a wide open target for quarterback Rich Gannon. ''When I came here, I wanted to be a factor. That's why I came here. Tonight I felt like I had very strong legs and I felt if I caught the ball I could do something with it.'' He did just that, as did the rest of the Raiders offense, which has been a primary target of criticism since December. After scoring just 62 points in the final four regular season games, Oakland pasted the Jets for 38 points and 502 yards of offense. For their efforts, the Raiders get a cross-country flight to New England to face the AFC East champion Patriots next Saturday night in Foxboro. ''It's hard to say we were waiting for the playoffs to get here, but obviously we played better tonight than we have the last 4-5 weeks,'' said Tim Brown, the other half of the Raiders' Hall of Fame-bound receiving duo. ''Everyone knew it was do or die and we did what we needed to do.'' The Jets, who earned a spot in the playoffs by beating the Raiders 24-22 in the regular-season finale despite three turnovers from quarterback Vinny Testaverde, had no such luck in their second trip in seven days to Networks Associates Coliseum. Though Testaverde did not turn the ball over once and though New York got 106 yards out of running back Curtis Martin, the Raiders never trailed and were never seriously threatened. Big plays were the theme of the night for Oakland. There was Sebastian Janikowski, the team's poster boy for its recent woes and owner of the most infamous foot disease west of the Rockies, making good on all three of his field goal attempts. There was Anthony Dorsett blocking a John Hall field goal, killing a Jets scoring drive. There was safety Johnnie Harris stripping Jets running back Richie Anderson to thwart another New York chance. But when push came to shove, the Raiders kept turning to Rice and Garner to shoulder the load. It was Rice who turned a short completion from Gannon into a foot race down the middle of the field before finally being caught and dragged down at the Jets two-yard line after a 47-yard gain. That set up Zack Crockett for a two-yard touchdown run to open the fourth quarter and give Oakland a comfortable 14-point lead. After the Jets pulled to within 24-17 on Testaverde's four-yard scoring toss to Anderson, Rice again came up big for the Raiders when he found a seam in New York's secondary and got wide open to haul in a 21-yard touchdown pass from Gannon. ''You have a guy that everyone is counting out in the last season, coming into this season, and he's too old this and too old that,'' said Oakland cornerback Charles Woodson. ''Yet he's the guy who shredded a defense today and looked like the Jerry Rice of 1990. He was the player of the game.'' When it wasn't Rice, it was Garner pounding New York's defense. His running early in the game kept the Jets off balance and kept them from keying in on Rice and the passing game. But it was his 81-yard touchdown run -- coming on a third-and-12 play when Oakland was trying to run the clock out -- that had everyone talking. Everyone, that is, except Garner himself who beat a hasty retreat for the exit doors after the game. Not to worry. His teammates and coaches had more than enough to say in defense of the man who could barely walk in the days leading up to the game. ''There's one thing that I can say about Charlie that I've always respected, maybe more than any other quality he has, and that is game day,'' said Raiders head coach Jon Gruden. ''He has an unbelievable passion to play this game. When the time comes to line up and play, this guy forgets about a lot of the injuries he has or had, and that's why he plays so recklessly.'' The timing coudn't have been more appropriate for the Raiders, who were trying to avoid one of the greatest late-season collapses in NFL history. Oakland's offense, so sluggish in the last month the regular season while going 1-3 down the stretch, came out with a wrinkle up its sleeve for the Jets. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, Gruden tried to shake things up by having Gannon come out running the no-huddle offense. Understand that outside of a few two-minute drills, Oakland has not run the no-huddle at all this season. Having flirted with the scheme a few times last season, though, the Raiders seemed to have no problem making the adjustment. Mixing a steady dose of Garner and Wheatley, and getting a big 27-yard completion from Gannon to Rice, Oakland marched methodically down to the field to the Jets' three-yard line before settling for a 21-yard field goal from Sebastian Janikowski. New York tried to match it but John Hall -- last week's hero when his 53-yard field goal in the final minute of regulation provided the winning margin and secured a playoff berth for the Jets -- shanked a 45-yard attempt wide left, a promising sign for the Raiders who had been watching the breaks go against them since Thanksgiving. Oakland took the miss and drove right back down the field but again failed to get the big play into the end zone. After moving to the Jets' 22, Gannon -- running a conventional offense this time -- twice missed on shots to get the Raiders inside the five. His first pass was intended for Rice, but Rice slipped on the turf and the ball bounced off his left shoulder incomplete. On the very next play, Gannon had Brown wide open at the five but the pass sailed high and out of Brown's reach. Janikowski connected from 41 yards out to put Oakland up 6-0 in a game that looked more like soccer than football. The first six drives of the game, three from each team, ended in field goal attempts. The Raiders' Janikowski made all three of his tries, while Hall was only 1-of-3 after Oakland's Anthony Dorsett blocked his 42-yard attempt late in the second quarter. Dorsett's block might have been the spark the Raiders needed. Gannon hit Rice for 15 yards then Garner broke free through the right side of the line and picked up a block from Lincoln Kennedy on his way to a 29-yard gain. Four plays later, on third-and-goal from the two, Gannon took advantage of a blown coverage by the Jets secondary and found Brown wide open at the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Janikowski's extra-point made it 16-3 heading into the half. Testaverde had just 55 yards passing in the first half but got almost that much on his first three completions of the third quarter when he drove the Jets 72 yards for a touchdown to open the second half. His 17-yard touchdown pass to Wayne Chrbet helped pull New York within 16-10 and had Jets fans hoping for a vintage Testaverde fourth-quarter comeback. But it was not to be. The Jets forced the Raiders to punt twice after Chrbet's touchdown but could do nothing in exchange. And after driving to midfield late in the third quarter, New York's best shot at taking the lead evaporated when Harris came in and stripped the ball loose from Anderson, allowing teammate Grady Jackson to recover. That killed any momentum the Jets had, and whatever hope New York had of winning all but died two plays later when Gannon hit Rice for the 47-yard gain down the middle of the field. Crockett plunged in from the two for the touchdown and Garner scored on a draw play for the two-point conversion to push Oakland's lead to 24-10 with 14:57 left to play. That opened the floodgates for both offenses. The Jets scored on a Testaverde to Richie touchdown pass with 10:18 left before Rice caught his 21-yard touchdown pass from Gannon less than five minutes later. Chrbet added his second touchdown of the game with 1:52 remaining to keep the Jets hopes alive, but after New York inexplicably opted not to go for the onside kick, the Raiders put the game out of reach on Garner's 81-yard touchdown run. ''We made plays on defense and got turnovers when we needed to and our offense capitalized,'' said linebacker William Thomas. ''So overall we got the job done.''
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