Raiders look to ground it out against Pats

Having rediscovered their ground game in the last week's playoff win over the Jets, the Raiders are feeling pretty good about themselves these days and the timing couldn't be better. With snow flurries expected at worst and near-freezing temperatures expected at best, Oakland won't have much choice other than to get the running game going if it wants to continue on in the postseason.

''We've been at our best the last three years when we've had that balance,'' said quarterback Rich Gannon. ''That certainly was a factor the other night ... that will be crucial for us down the stretch. We need that balance in the running and the passing game.'' For most of the regular season the Raiders weren't getting much balance at all. With Gannon setting team records for most pass attempts and completions in a season, Oakland was easily a pass-first, run-second team. Part of that was due to teams stacking the line of scrimmage to shut the running game of the Raiders, who were the NFL's top-ranked rushing team last season. As a result the Raiders averaged just 3.7 yards a carry during the regular season, only the 25th best average in a league of 31 teams. But in back-to-back games against the Jets, Oakland knocked that number up to 6.9 yards a pop following a 119-yard day on Jan. 6 and a 215-yard performance the following week. Charlie Garner's 158-yard day last week against New York, highlighted by his 80-yard touchdown run in the game's final minutes, marked the first time all season the Raiders had a running back top the 100-yard mark. The setting could be right for a repeat performance against the AFC East champion Patriots, who have played just once since Dec. 22. New England employs a 3-4 defense that depends a lot on its linebackers to make plays, and five times during the regular season opposing running backs ran for 100 yards or more. Playing at Foxboro Stadium, where snow is expected by time the 8 p.m. (EST) kickoff comes around, should present ideal circumstances for the Raiders to try to run. ''When the (weather) is cole and the ground is hard, you can't pass,'' said right guard Frank Middleton. ''You've got to go north and south. That means relying on a running game. Us big guys up front like it when we run the ball.'' Head coach Jon Gruden said the Raiders will indeed try to run the ball against the Patriots early on, but added much will depend on the flow of the game. ''You've got to take a look at your quarterback and see how he's throwing the football in pre-game warmup,'' Gruden said. ''The first series or two of the game, is the wind a factor? Can he grip the ball? Can he drive it? Those are things that you've got to see for yourself when you get there, and if you need to make an adjustment, you've got to be prepared somehow, some way to do that. ''In the NFL and in a game of this magnitude, you're going to have to make some throws, make some plays throwing the football. If we have to throw it 35 or 45 times, we've got to be willing to do that to win.'' NOTES: Running back Charlie Garner took part in practice Tuesday but was limited in what he could do. Although he is expected to play against the Patriots -- he didn't practice at all the week prior to dusting the Jets for 158 yards -- Garner is listed as probable. ''He didn't practice a whole lot but he moved around a whole lot better today than he did at this time last week.,'' said Gruden. ''We expect him to be ready to go.'' ... Cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Eric Allen also practiced lightly on Tuesday. Woodson continues to be bothered by a turf toe injury while Allen is nursing a hip injury ... Defensive tackle Grady Jackson was honored by his teammates by being awarded the Eric Turner Award as the Raiders most valuable defensive player. Allen won the award last year and presented it to Jackson last week.

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