In the midst of a season-turning four-game winning streak, the Jets were also exuding confidence when they clashed with the Silver and Black on Monday night, Dec. 2, at Network Associates Coliseum. Despite a feisty performance by Gang Green, Oakland came out on top, 26-20 - as quarterback Rich Gannon threw for 342 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown toss to Jerry Rice, and kicker Sebastian Janikowski booted four field goals.
It was also the night on which Oakland wide receiver Tim Brown recorded his 1,000th NFL reception, a feat that caused the stoppage of play for 15 minutes as Brown was feted with an on-field ceremony. Some Jets whispered that the stoppage had an adverse effect on their momentum and was a turning point in the contest.
It was the Jets' third game in Oakland in the past year. In January of 2002, Gang Green earned a playoff berth on the final game of the regular season against the Raiders with John Hall's 53-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter providing the edge. That game remains the Jets' sole win at the Coliseum, where they sport a 1-7-1 mark dating back to the 1960s.
Hall loves the atmosphere at the Raider Nation world headquarters.
"It's a great place to play," he said. "They're great fans, and they really get into it. It's an exiting atmosphere. But when I'm on the field I don't hear anybody, (the fan noise) doesn't bother me. To win out there you have to play with a lot of will and emotion."
Six days following Hall's heroics, the Jets were once again racking up frequent flyer miles -- jetting back to the Bay Area for the opening round of the AFC Playoffs where the Raiders defeated them 38-24.
Jets cornerback Ray Mickens said last Saturday that the six-hour flight takes a physical toll -- but he cautioned that it shouldn't be used as an excuse for any shortcomings in performance.
"We definitely know (the Raiders)," Mickens continued. "We played them three times in the last year. We know them pretty well, but we haven't played well against them out there. We won one game -- the game we had to win last season (to get into the playoffs). This year, I just think we want it more than we did last year."
Tight end Anthony Becht noted: "Being in Oakland is like home-field advantage because we've been there so many times. But it's gonna be a battle, it's gonna get harder now."
"We have to be on top of our game," Sowell said.
Sowell acknowledged that Raiders' fans "fire me up, they fire the whole team up. They got fans like that. It's good for them and we take it as a positive for us to pump our team up. We don't look at it as a negative."
McGraw agrees with Sowell's assessment.
"Oh, the Raiders fans fire me up," he said. "I love it. It was so much fun when we played them earlier this season. That was the most exciting game for me this year. Since it was Monday night, it was really awesome."
But given the Jets" confidence level, the outcome might be quite different.
"A lot of people said we wouldn't make it this far," said defensive end John Abraham. "A lot of people said we were going to be home right now. Now we're home, and a lot of people are biting their tongues."