It has been 19 years since the Oakland Raiders last qualified for the Super Bowl. A franchise which prides itself on a self-styled "commitment to excellence" has fallen well short of the standards demanded by their idiosyncratic owner. Al Davis, but. following their 27-7 triumph over the San Diego Chargers, it seems that the long wait could be over.
This was billed as a battle between the genuine contenders but, despite enjoying home advantage, the Chargers were soundly beaten on both sides of the ball. The Raider quarterback Rich Gannon set a new NFL record by gaining 328 yards for his 10th 300-yard game of the season, while the running backs Charlie Garner and Zack Crockett both scored important touchdowns.
Even more significant was the manner of Oakland's defensive mastery. They intercepted the San Diego quarterback Drew Brees three times, and also held the dangerous running back LaDanian Tomlinson to only 57 yards. Under the shrewd guidance of coach Bill Callahan, the Raiders seem to possess the necessary all-round strength to go a long way.
"This was definitely one of our best games," the linebacker Bill Romanowski said. "No matter what they did, no matter what running play, no matter what passing play, we always felt we were in control." The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were in similarly dominant mood. As with the Oakland game, the contest against the Atlanta Falcons in Florida was billed as a possible play-off dress rehearsal. However, the Buccaneers looked ominous on their way to a 34-10 drubbing.
Tampa Bay boast the league's top-ranked defence, and Atlanta's young quarterback Michael Vick found out at first hand how dominant they can be. Vick has thrilled with the power of his arm and his elusive running ability, but found little room for manoeuvre, restricted to only 15 rushing yards on five attempts, and a mere 125 passing yards. For the first time this season, Vick was a non-factor. Meanwhile, Tampa's quarterback, Brad Johnson, continues to impress. The former London Monarch threw four touchdown passes, two each for Joe Jurevicius and Keenan McCardell.
The Cleveland Browns left it until the last second against Jacksonville. Trailing 20-14 and needing a win to keep their season alive, the quarterback Tim Couch hurled a hopeful 50-yard pass towards Quincy Morgan as time expired. Somehow, Morgan managed to grab the ball to give the Browns a dramatic win.
With the Pittsburgh Steelers surprisingly losing to the Houston Texans, Cleveland are now in the thick of the post-season race. The Steelers accumulated 422 yards of offence, restricted their opponents to three completed passes, three first downs, and a mere 47 total yards, yet still lost 24-6. The Texans took full advantage of three Pittsburgh turnovers to score three touchdowns. No team in the game's history has ever produced such little offence, yet still emerged victorious.
Elsewhere, there were wins for the Green Bay Packers, the San Francisco 49ers and the Tennessee Titans.
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