Rest does Raiders well

For three weeks all the talk surrounding the Raiders had been about their offense and the diversity with which they were able to slice apart their first two opponents. But against Tennessee on Sunday, the offense took a backseat to Oakland's defense and special teams.

                       The defense intercepted Titans quarterback Steve McNair four times, three alone from safety Rod Woodson including an 82-yard touchdown, while Phillip Buchanon and Terry Kirby each returned punts for touchdowns. Combined it provided all the spark the Raiders needed to easily dispatch of struggling Tennessee, 52-25, before a raucous crowd of 58,719 at Networks Associates Coliseum.

            And oh, by the way, quarterback Rich Gannon passed for 381 yards and four touchdowns, Jerry Rice became the NFL's all-time career leader in total yardage and Tim Brown inched one notch higher on the league's career reception list.

            Yet on this day at least, the trio of offensive stars and their accomplishments became almost secondary in the big picture.

            ''Everything's clicking right now,'' said Woodson, whose three interceptions matched his career-high for a single game. ''The only thing I was disappointed about was the way we played on defense when (Tennessee) went to a no-huddle on us. I felt like we felt a little bit sorry for ourselves when we were a little tired. Other than that we played well. The offense was playing well (and) so was special teams. It's all coming together.''         

            At 3-0 the Raiders stand as one of only three remaining unbeaten teams in the NFL, joining division rivals San Diego and Denver, which played on Monday night. And just like the Chargers and Broncos, Oakland is getting big performances and plays from just about everywhere on the field.

            In the season-opener against Seattle, it was the running game that led the charge. A week later against Pittsburgh it was the passing attack leading the way. In both of those games, the defense and special teams had occasional flashes of brilliance but not to the extreme with which it blasted Tennessee.

            The Raiders had never returned two punts for touchdowns in their previous 42 years of existence and they hadn't had two returns for touchdowns in a single season since 1998. Yet they turned that trick against Tennessee in the first quarter.

            And save for the second-half lull by the defense, during which the Titans closed to within 38-25 early in the fourth quarter, Tennessee's offense was not much of a factor. Sure, the Titans rolled up 430 yards of offense but the majority of that came after Oakland had built its commanding lead and softened its defensive approach a tad. When push came to shove, though, the Raiders put both hands on the Titans chest and knocked them out of the door.

            ''I thought that was a very good win for our team today,'' said Raiders head coach Bill Callahan. ''The special teams was a real catalyst for us with the back-to-back punt returns. The turnovers on defense that we generated put us in a position early in the game to make a lot of big plays.''

            The Raiders had talked all week about the potential danger Tennessee presented despite the Titans' 1-2 record heading into the game. Perhaps Oakland's players were just trying to keep their collective guard up coming off the bye week. Or perhaps they were truly concerned. After all, Tennessee had won six of the last seven games between the two franchises, including three when the team was in Houston and known as the Oilers.

            Whatever the case, it turned out to be much ado about nothing.

            McNair, the Titans enigmatic quarterback, tried to go right at Buchanon on the first play from scrimmage and saw his pass get picked off. Or so it seemed. Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher challenged the play, claiming Buchanon didn't have control. He won the challenge but all that did was delay an avalanche that was about to let loose on the Titans.

            Two plays after successfully winning the challenge, McNair again tried to pass but got hit by Oakland defensive tackle Sam Adams as he was throwing. The ball fluttered in the air before landing in the arms of Woodson at the Tennessee 35-yard line. Woodson's 18-yard return gave the Raiders the ball deep inside Titans territory, where it took all of one play to reach the end zone.

            Gannon found Charlie Garner just past the line of scrimmage on a quick slant and the speedy Garner outraced Tennessee's defense 17 yards for a touchdown.

            Buchanon, still smarting over not getting his first NFL interception, sent a jolt through the Networks Associates Coliseum crowd 3 1/2 minutes later when he fielded a punt at his own 17, split a pair of blocks then found a seam toward the left side of the field. By the time he stopped running, the young rookie reached the end zone with an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown, the first of Buchanon's brief professional career.

            That was just a prelude of things to come. After the defense forced the Titans to punt after three plays, Buchanon again settled back to return a punt. But after taking the kick at his own 26, Buchanon drifted back to the 21 where he handed the ball off to Terry Kirby coming back the other way. Kirby got a block from Travian Smith, who appeared to get away with a clip, then sprinted toward midfield where all that stood between he and a touchdown was Tennessee punter Craig Hentrich. Three Raider players devoured Hentrich, however, and Kirby scampered into the end zone with a 79-yard touchdown.

            By then the score was 21-0 and yet Oakland's offense had been on the field for all of one play.

            ''We came in here and we got blown out,'' said Fisher, whose team fell to 1-3. ''We fell behind and we could never catch up. Two plays on special teams, our inability to tackle and the fact that we're struggling really cost us. We got outplayed by the Raiders in all three phases.''

            Tennessee managed to put together an 80-yard scoring drive midway through the second quarter, cutting Oakland's lead to 21-7 but again, all it did was put off the inevitable.

            Sebastian Janikowski's 28-yard field goal pushed the Raiders lead to 24-7 early in the second quarter as the onslaught continued, then Oakland buried the Titans with a picture-perfect drive just before halftime.

            Coming out running the no-huddle, Gannon -- who had completed eight of his first 13 passes -- connected on seven straight throws and methodically marched the Raiders 86 yards downfield for another score. This time he found Rice in the front corner of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown, making it 31-7.

            Even when things started to go well for Tennessee the bottom seemed to fall out. On the Titans' subsequent possession they moved down to Oakland's 26 before McNair was intercepted again by Woodson, but this time there was no stopping the veteran defensive back. Woodson, the NFL's all-time leader in interception returns for touchdowns, added another to his resume with an 82-yard return that had the crowd roaring its approval. It also made the score 38-7 and the apparent route was on.

            Instead of finishing the Titans off, though, the Raiders' defense relaxed and allowed Tennessee to at least make things slightly interesting. With scores on three successive possessions in the second half the Titans closed to within 38-25 early in the fourth quarter before Gannon put the game away with touchdown passes to Jerry Porter and Tim Brown.

            ''This is a grind but it's a fun grind when things are going well and right now things are going well,'' said linebacker Bill Romanowski. ''It's so nice when all three phases of the game are firing. Overall, all three phases did what they had to do to win the game.''


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