Entering the 2002 NFL regular season, conventional wisdom suggested that the Oakland Raiders best chance to win a Super Bowl was 2000.
Perhaps so but one could also make the case that if the Raiders do not beat the Tennessee Titans Sunday at home for the AFC Championship – there are no excuses. That idea may sound a bit harsh but true quite frankly.
Let's compare the various situations:
2000: The Raiders (12-4) enter the AFC playoffs as the No. 2 seed behind Tennessee (13-3). Oakland thumps Miami 27-0 on a Saturday of the AFC Divisional playoffs and expects an all-expenses paid trip to Nashville. The Raiders are all but buying tickets to the Grand Ole Opry.
Tennessee plays Baltimore, the No. 4 seed in the AFC, at home the following day. Baltimore has a stellar defense but does not look like it can score worth a lick. The Ravens upset Tennessee 24-10 with two touchdowns coming via either defense or special teams. Now, all of the sudden the Raiders are hosting a Baltimore club that has a stout defense but an offense about as fearful as chicken salad.
One week later, Baltimore plays defense against Oakland like it woke up on the wrong side of the bed. The Ravens pummeled the Raiders into submission with a 16-3 win.
Excuse: Reaching the AFC Title game was a great achievement. The Raiders had not done it since the 1990 season but the Ravens had a "defense from hell."
2001: Oakland is sailing right along with a 10-3 record after a division clinching 13-6 win at San Diego. The Raiders drop three straight games to end the regular season with a 10-6 record. Not a bad mark but Oakland is forced to play an AFC Wild Card game instead of resting for a week with a log near the fire.
The Raiders manhandle the New York Jets 38-24 in that contest. Then, they are forced to go to snowy Foxboro, Massachusetts. For the better part of three quarters, Oakland outplays the Patriots and leads 13-3.
Oakland still led 13-10 with less than two minutes left in the game with New England driving. Oakland cornerback Charles Woodson separates Patriots quarterback Tom Brady from the ball. Raiders' linebacker Greg Biekert, now a Minnesota Viking, falls on it. Game over. Drive home safely. Well, the now infamous "Tuck Rule." It's been talked about so much there's no need to explain more.
New England drove for the game-tying field goal in regulation and then game winning in overtime.
Excuse: The Raiders should not have blown the fourth period lead but they got jobbed by a lousy interpretation of the rule.
2002: The Raiders come roaring out of the gate with a 4-0 start only to lose their next four to drop to 4-4.
Oakland rebounds to win eight of their next nine starting with a decisive 34-10 blowout on the road over the Denver Broncos. The regular season ends with a 24-0 shutout over Kansas City and Oakland earns the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
The playoffs open. The New York media ridiculous fawns over its Jets after they won eight of 10 entering Oakland. The Raiders simply used the Jets as a dust rag and whipped them 30-10.
The Tennessee Titans are a hot club entering Oakland. They've won 11 of 12 but they are hobbled. Quarterback Steve McNair (just pick an injury), running back Eddie George (concussion) and defensive end Jevon Kearse (foot) were listed as questionable as of Thursday.
Excuses: The Titans have a strong defense but nowhere near the 2000 Baltimore club and their big guns are hurting. There's no weather issues and judgment calls rarely go against a home team late in the game. Excuses? Absolutely, positively – none.