Raiders seek third strike to send Broncos to bench

January 09, 1994|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

If today's matchup seems familiar, it's only because it is.

The Los Angeles Raiders and the Denver Broncos, who played 4 1/2 quarters last Sunday, do it again today in an AFC wild-card playoff game.

Only the stakes are different.

This time, the loser goes home.

Last week, only the Raiders were in danger of going home if they lost and they rallied from a 30-13 third-quarter deficit to win in overtime, 33-30.

The Broncos, by contrast, only lost home-field advantage today by losing last Sunday. That may turn out to be no small thing, though.

The Broncos aren't exactly road warriors in the playoffs. They're 1-8 on the road with the only victory coming when John Elway put together The Drive to beat the Cleveland Browns, 23-20, in the 1986 AFC title game.

Denver also has lost six straight games in the Los Angeles Coliseum, and Elway is 6-13 against the Raiders.

The Broncos, naturally, ignore all that history. They're just eager to take another crack at the Raiders after losing in overtime last Sunday.

"After a game like that, everybody comes out saying, 'Boy, I wish we could play them again,' " coach Wade Phillips said. "Well, we're going to do just that."

Phillips isn't worried about his team thinking it can't beat the Raiders.

"This team has a lot of heart and a lot of character," Phillips said. "We don't fear anybody, and we don't fear playing anybody on the road."

Phillips insists that in the past, "We didn't want to play certain teams at certain places. We didn't think we could win. I don't have that feeling with this team."

It's not surprising that Raiders coach Art Shell thinks his team has a knack for beating the Broncos. He's 8-1 against Denver since becoming a head coach.

"It's not a mastery, it's just the players believing we're going to win, the players getting it done," he said. "We match up very well against them. We feel like we're going to find a way to win."

For all of the Raiders' dominance, the games are usually close except for their 24-0 victory in the second game last year when Elway was injured. The Raiders won each of the regular-season games this year by just three points.

Fourteen of the past 21 games between the teams have been decided by three points or fewer, and six went into overtime.

The Raiders also are attempting to post the first three-game single-season sweep in the series. The only other time the teams met three times was in 1977 when they split during the regular season and the Broncos beat the Raiders in the AFC title game to make the Super Bowl.

"It's always kind of tough to beat a team twice in one season," Elway said. "Let's hope it's really hard to do it three times in one season."

That prompted Shell to say, "I saw where John guaranteed they were going to win the game Sunday. That's for him to say. Our team will not go into the game underestimating the Denver Broncos. Never have, never will. They might not respect us, but we respect them."

Raiders wide receiver Tim Brown added: "I think John is trying to put pressure on us. What he's doing is putting a little pressure on his own team. I think our team is going to be relaxed going

into this game. I think the other team is going to be a little tight after last week."

It's difficult to understand how Elway's comments about the difficulty of beating a team three times in one year could be interpreted as a guarantee, but the Raiders obviously were looking for any psychological edge they could find.

"I find it hard to believe they need any more motivation at this time of year," Elway said.

What the Raiders really should worry about is their running game.

The Raiders, who lost Marcus Allen to the Kansas City Chiefs in the free-agent market after he got in owner Al Davis' doghouse for reasons that still aren't clear, haven't found a back all year who can carry the load.

The past two weeks, they've started Nick Bell and Randy Jordan, who suffered a concussion, at tailback.

In this game, they're starting rookie Tyrone Montgomery, who gained 44 yards after Johnson went out although he has only 106 yards in 37 carries all year.

"This is the chance of a lifetime," he said. "This is what you dream about, what you fantasize about, what you come here for."

It could be a nightmare for the Raiders if he doesn't give the team a running game to complement Jeff Hostetler's passing.

The Broncos have running back problems of their own because Robert Delpino sprained two toes last week although he'll play.

"That's a key injury for us," said Phillips, whose team already has lost Rod Bernstine.

With the home-field edge, there's probably a bit more pressure on the Raiders in this one.

Even though Davis always insists the "greatness of the Raiders is in the future," they haven't done many great things since winning their third Super Bowl after the 1983 season.

They've won only one playoff game since, a 20-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in 1990 and it was a costly one as Bo Jackson suffered the hip injury that ended his football career.

One playoff victory in nine years isn't anybody's definition of greatness.

The Raiders will try not to make it 1-for-10 years today.

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