American Football: Callahan points Raiders towards the riches

When Al Davis, the maverick owner of the Oakland Raiders, dispensed with the services of his head coach, Jon Gruden in the summer, eyebrows were raised. Was it wise to bid farewell to one of the sharpest young minds in the game?

And when Davis replaced him with the unknown Bill Callahan, many believed the old rascal had finally taken leave of his senses. Now, five weeks into a new campaign, the man who has been the driving force behind the franchise for the last 40 years looks like a genius. Under Callahan's stewardship, the Raiders are the league's only unbeaten team, and the manner of their 49-31 rout of the Buffalo Bills raises genuine expectations for a first Super Bowl appearance since 1983.

In a thrilling contest, the two teams combined for close to 1,000 yards, but the key play was a defensive one in the second half. With the Bills down by four points but threatening, their quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, was intercepted by Oakland's Philip Buchanon, who returned it 81 yards for a touchdown. That gave the Raiders a 42-31 advantage, and it broke the Bills' stubborn resistance.

The Raiders intercepted Bledsoe three times in all, while their quarterback, Rich Gannon, threw three touchdowns. The evergreen Jerry Rice claimed one of them, but the surprise was Jerry Porter's seven catches for 117 yards and the game's opening touchdown.

Oakland have averaged more than 40 points per contest this season and have amassed 101 in their last two games. "We still haven't showed you everything," said Porter. "There's a lot of things we haven't had a chance to get to because of situations. You haven't seen the half of it yet."

The San Diego Chargers were the league's only other unbeaten team going into the weekend but were left gasping for breath in the rarefied atmosphere of Colorado, where the Denver Broncos cruised to a 26-9 triumph. A pair of early touchdown passes from Brian Griese had the Chargers struggling, and an interception return from Deltha O'Neill confirmed the home side's superiority.

Having parted company with Oakland, Jon Gruden is now in charge at Tampa Bay, and his new side continued to look impressive in a 20-6 win in Atlanta. The former London Monarchs quarterback Brad Johnson fired a 76-yard touchdown to Keyshawn Johnson, and Derrick Brooks sealed it with a 15-yard interception return. Having been beaten in their season opener, the Buccaneers have won three in a row.

The New England Patriots' bright start seems a distant memory. Having lost their unbeaten record last week, the Super Bowl champions wilted in the Florida sunshine, losing 26-13 to Miami, for whom the quarterback, Jay Feidler, threw two touchdown passes and ran for another himself.

Another passer to make headlines was the Washington rookie Patrick Ramsey. With the starting quarterback, Danny Wuerffel, out with a shoulder injury, and his side trailing Tennessee 7-3, the youngster saw his first action as a professional, and impressed by throwing a pair of touchdown passes as the Redskins cruised to a 31-14 win. On this evidence, the strong-armed Ramsey is set for a bright future.

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