Raiders' once-rank defense quickly becomes top-ranked

Week 9 In Review

November 03, 1998|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

No team in the NFL has made up more ground in the first half of the season than the Oakland Raiders. They have gone from 4-12 also-ran to 6-2 playoff contender, from worst-ranked defense to top-ranked defense almost overnight.

They bring a five-game winning streak to Baltimore on Sunday to play the struggling Ravens. That doesn't match the Denver Broncos' eight-game winning streak, but it does tie Buffalo for second-hottest team in the league.

If the playoffs started today, the Raiders would play host to a wild-card game, no small feat for a team that was a perfect 30 on defense a year ago -- dead last in total defense, rush defense and pass defense.

Architect of the stunning transformation is Jon Gruden, at 35 the youngest coach in the league and one of its brightest offensive minds.

But it's really Willie Shaw's defense that has carried the Raiders through the first half of the season, enabling them to win four games with a backup quarterback.

Shaw's aggressive style of defense has generated 22 take-aways, including five in a 31-18 win over Seattle in Week 9.

His defense already has scored four touchdowns, three on interceptions by former Raven Eric Turner, rookie Charles Woodson and 38-year-old Albert Lewis. And it was ranked No. 1 in total yards allowed last week.

The Raiders haven't lost since Donald Hollas, a career backup, replaced Jeff George in the first half at Arizona in Week 5. Hollas won his three starts since then, but needed help from veteran Wade Wilson in a Week 6 win over San Diego.

George, who suffered a groin pull, will decide tomorrow if he can play against the Ravens. But even without him, the Raiders have demonstrated they can win with their defense.

TDs off interceptions rising

Lewis' 74-yard interception return for a touchdown Sunday night was the 28th interception runback this season. That projects to a season total of 56 touchdowns off interceptions, which would surpass last year's total of 47.

Seattle is the team leader with four picks returned for scores, two by cornerback Shawn Springs. Oakland and New England have returned three each. All of which suggests that the quality of quarterbacking around the league is down significantly.

He's 0-for-the-Packers

For San Francisco, the road to the Super Bowl still runs through Green Bay. And that's still bad news for the 49ers, who lost to the Packers for the fifth straight time on Sunday, 36-22.

For all of his six passing titles and various MVP trophies, quarterback Steve Young has yet to beat Green Bay in a 14-year NFL career. He's 0-8, with four losses coming at Tampa Bay. In those eight games, Young has thrown for three touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and been sacked 39 times.

Elvis still in building

Add Kansas City to the list of teams with quarterback controversies. The Chiefs are 0-3 since starter Elvis Grbac returned from a slight shoulder separation, and the locals are screaming for backup Rich Gannon, who went 3-1 in Grbac's absence.

Coach Marty Schottenheimer says he's firmly in Grbac's corner, even though Grbac has completed just 43 percent of his passes for two touchdowns and four interceptions in the last three games.

Comebacks galore

No fourth-quarter lead was safe in the NFL on Sunday. Well, outside of Jacksonville over Baltimore. There were six winning comebacks in the last quarter. The biggest was staged by Doug Flutie and the Buffalo Bills, who wiped out a 10-point deficit with 13: 39 left to beat Miami, 30-24. The others:

Tampa Bay overturned a seven-point deficit to beat Minnesota, 27-24.

The New York Jets came from seven down to beat Kansas City, 20-17.

The Broncos scored 20 points in the final seven minutes after falling behind Cincinnati, 18-13, to win 33-26.

The Packers scored the final 17 points after trailing the 49ers, 22-19.

Arizona edged Detroit, 17-15, on a 53-yard field goal in the final three minutes after trailing, 15-14.


The Broncos became the 10th team since 1970 to start the season 8-0, and for what it's worth, seven of the previous nine advanced to the Super Bowl. Denver's Shannon Sharpe joined Ozzie Newsome (662) and Kellen Winslow (541) as the only tight ends in history with 500 catches. By throwing for 1,873 yards in eight games, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning has voided the final three years on his contract (the void number was 1,601). The Colts have the option to buy back those years with an $8.4 million bonus. Minnesota has given up three 100-yard-plus rushing games in the last two weeks. Detroit's Barry Sanders rushed for 127 in Week 8, and both Mike Alstott (128) and Warrick Dunn (115) of Tampa Bay passed the century mark in Week 9. This is the point in the season where the Vikings' defense usually starts to wear down. New England surrendered 127 rushing yards to Marshall Faulk in a Week 2 victory over the Colts, but held him to 22 this week. Faulk still got his 100, though, with 119 yards on nine receptions.

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