Raiders can't shake Dolphins defense

For a little more than four months the Raiders sliced and diced their way through opposing defenses while quarterback Rich Gannon and wide receivers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown assaulted the NFL record books. At times, it has been almost too easy, which is why Sunday's game against Miami provided a cold dose of reality.

Showing no respect at all for the league's hottest passer or his two Hall of Fame-bound wideouts, the Dolphins didn't just merely defeat the Raiders. They beat them down, literally. Gannon was sacked five times, Rice didn't catch a single pass for the game's first 42 minutes while Brown ... well, Brown had a day he'll not soon want to re-live.

            The sum total of all of this was a critical 23-17 win by Miami that exposed the Raiders' vulnerabilities on offense and provided a perfect blueprint for future Oakland opponents, who undoubtedly will watch film of what the Dolphins did to derail Gannon and company.

            What Miami did, simply enough, was get in Gannon's face, something few teams have been able to do this season. The Dolphins, though, didn't just get after Gannon. They harassed him all afternoon, from the second play from scrimmage when he was dropped for a sack by Jason Taylor and fumbled all the way till Oakland's last-ditch effort, a deep heave of a throw by Gannon into double coverage that landed in the hands of Miami's Patrick Surtain to seal the Dolphins' victory.

            The win catapulted Miami into a tie with the Raiders -- both teams at 9-5 -- in the race for home-field advantage in the playoffs. Oakland, which had its five-game win streak come to an end, still managed to hang on to first place in the AFC West thanks to San Diego's loss to Buffalo but the Raiders' ability to control their own destiny evaporated in the humid, south Florida air.

            That's because the Dolphins, who have not lost to the Raiders in Miami in more than a decade, came up with the best defensive effort Oakland has seen all season.

            This wasn't about Ricky Williams or Jay Fiedler, though both men had decent days for Miami. This was about the Dolphins' defense and, in particular, Taylor. It was Taylor, the NFL's sack leader heading into the game, who set the tone with his early sack of Gannon. Taylor actually sacked Gannon and knocked the ball free on back-to-back plays during the Raiders' opening drive and finished with three of Miami's five sacks overall, upping his season total to 17.

            ''There's no question about that, they were superb in every area of their defense,'' said Raiders head coach Bill Callahan. ''It's the best defense we've faced all year. They played hard and they take a lot of pride in what they do. We were trying everything.''

            But little worked.

            Gannon, the NFL leader in passing yardage who had thrown for more than 300 yards in 10 of Oakland's first 13 games, could never find a groove against the Dolphins, who blanketed Rice and Brown and held the potent duo to a combined six receptions for 60 yards. Gannon was just 17-for-31 for 204 yards, his second lowest output of the season.

            Gannon's counterpart, Jay Fiedler, wasn't much better but his 237 passing yards did a lot more damage.

            Playing in only his second game since sitting out six weeks with a broken right thumb, Fiedler couldn't have picked a better opponent to have his best game of the season against. With Oakland playing without its top three cornerbacks, the Dolphins' quarterback feasted on the remnants of the Raiders' defensive backfield.

            On Miami's first offensive play of the game Fiedler went right after Terrance Shaw for a 40-yard completion to wide receiver Chris Chambers. Shaw, making his second straight start in place of injured Charles Woodson, would be a frequent target for the Dolphins and Fiedler, who was 11-for-15 for 154 yards in the first half alone.

            It was Fiedler who made a crisp five-yard touchdown throw  to wide receiver Cris Carter to give Miami a 10-3 lead late in the first quarter. Later, after a Shane Lechler punt pinned the Dolphins back at their own 3-yard line, Fiedler completed five straight passes while Williams chipped in with 30 yards on the ground to push Miami down to Oakland's 10. From there, two straight runs by Travis Minor put the ball into the end zone and helped upped the Dolphins lead to 17-3.

            The Raiders, on the other hand, could do nothing against Miami's swarming defense. Oakland, averaging 31 points and more than 417 yards a game as the NFL's top-ranked offense, managed just two field goals and 64 yards in the first half.

            Gannon, the league-leader in passing yards, had all kinds of problems trying to figure out the Dolphins. A perfect illustration of the Raiders' problems offensively came late in the second quarter after Oakland's best drive of the day moved the ball down to the Dolphins' 10-yard line. On second down, Gannon tried a quarterback draw but was stuffed for no gain. On third down, Gannon had all day to pass and scrambled around looking for an open receiver but could find none and eventually was taken down for a 10-yard sack by Adewale Ogunleye, leaving the Raiders to settle for Sebastian Janikowski's second field goal of the day.

            That would be the theme of the day for Oakland, which moved the ball decently but nowhere near its seasonal form. All of the Raiders' scoring through three quarters came from Janikowski, who continued his hot streak by connecting from 26, 38 and 45 yards out.

            But with Miami matching every Oakland score, having to settle for field goal attempts kept the Raiders from getting close.

            Not that they didn't make it tight in the second half. After Miami took a 20-9 lead on Olindo Mare's 27-yard field goal late in the third quarter, Oakland put together its best offensive series of the game.

            Gannon completed seven of eight passes for 90 yards, the first of which went to Rice who hadn't caught a pass all afternoon. Rice had three receptions on the drive but was shut out the rest of the day. Gannon didn't need Rice on his touchdown throw, however, instead finding Jerry Porter cutting across the back of the end zone for a 20-yard scoring strike. A two-point conversion pass to Porter closed the gap to 20-17.

            But that would be as close as Oakland would get, even though the Raiders had their chances. Mare barely missed a 40-yard field goal attempt but Oakland couldn't capitalize, then late in the fourth quarter after the defense forced a Miami punt, Brown fumbled the kick and the Dolphins recovered to give Mare another chance. This time his 41-yard field goal split the uprights and gave Miami a little breathing room.

            Gannon and the Raiders had one final shot but two plays after a 14-yard completion to running back Charlie Garner, Gannon went for the gusto with a deep bomb to Rice, who was covered tightly by Surtain and a second Miami defender. The ball never reached Rice and was intercepted by Surtain, ending Oakland's hopes of a last-second comeback.

            ''We left a lot of points and yards out on the field,'' said Porter. ''We have nobody to blame but ourselves. (Miami) has a hell of a defense and defensive scheme but we were more than up to it. We just didn't execute. But you have to take your hats off to (the Dolphins). They did what they had to do.''


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