Janikowski holds his nerve as Raiders remember glory days

For a franchise which prides itself on a commitment to excellence, times have been hard for the Oakland Raiders. They last appeared in a Super Bowl 17 years ago, and their recent history has been a frustrating tale of a failure to fulfil potential, the commitment to excellence seemingly replaced by a drive towards mediocrity.

For a franchise which prides itself on a commitment to excellence, times have been hard for the Oakland Raiders. They last appeared in a Super Bowl 17 years ago, and their recent history has been a frustrating tale of a failure to fulfil potential, the commitment to excellence seemingly replaced by a drive towards mediocrity.

There are, however, signs that the current Raiders may be set to return to the glory days enjoyed as a matter of routine throughout the 1970s. Sunday's dogged 20-17 victory in Kansas City demonstrated a toughness that has been lacking in recent years: down by 10 points against their fiercest rivals, the Raiders rallied behind the quarterback Rich Gannon, who threw a pair of scoring passes.

With the scores tied, the affair looked destined for overtime. Instead, Sebastian Janikowski successfully converted a 43-yard field goal with 25 seconds on the clock, and the Raiders were home. Kicking a 43-yard field goal is not normally the stuff of headlines, but for Janikowski it may be a turning point in a young and troubled career.

Selected in the first round of this year's collegiate draft (the first kicker taken in the opening round for 21 years), the Pole had a known history of off-field problems which almost brought about pre-season deportation. The Raiders chose to ignore that, captivated instead by his ability to kick long field goals during his time at Florida State University.

Since joining the Raiders, he had looked terrible, missing five field goals. Last week the kicker with the fragile psyche was called into coach Jon Gruden's office to discuss his problems, seemingly to good effect. "I'm getting pressure from everyone," he explained. "I had a conversation with the coach about life and things, and that really helped. It helps that the team and coach still have confidence in me."

No such psychological crisis in St Louis, where the Rams continued their assault on the record books with a 45-29 rout of Atlanta. The running back Marshall Faulk set a career high with 208 rushing yards, and, with his 86 yards receiving, Faulk alone generated more offense than the Falcons managed collectively.

Darrick Vaughn gave Atlanta early encouragement, returning the opening kick-off 96 yards for a touchdown, but hopes of an upset were dimmed when Tony Horne replied in kind for the Rams, the first time in league history that a contest has been opened with a pair of scoring kick-off returns.

At this pace, the defending champions will accumulate 699 points this season (the league record is 556), while the quarterback Kurt Warner is on course for more than 6,000 passing yards, which would eclipse Dan Marino's 16-year-old mark of 5,084.

The Cincinnati Bengals, still searching in vain for their first win, can only dream of such productivity: their 15-0 reverse in Pittsburgh means that they have scored a paltry 37 points from their six games to date. Equally, the Baltimore Ravens have now gone three games without a touchdown, following their 10-3 defeat to near-neighbours Washington.

Elsewhere, big performances from running backs proved crucial. Edgerrin James set a new club record with 219 rushing yards and three scores as the Indianapolis Colts triumphed in Seattle, 37-24. Robert Smith's 170 rushing yards enabled Minnesota to preserve their unbeaten record as the Vikings came from behind to beat Chicago 28-16.

Revenge was sweet for Curtis Martin, who led the New York Jets with 143 yards and three touchdowns, helping to overwhelm the New England Patriots, the team which released him two years ago. And the improving New Orleans Saints owed much to the efforts of Ricky Williams, who gained 144 yards and scored two touchdowns in the 24-6 win over the disappointing Carolina Panthers.

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