Raiders return with roar

Loud crowd helps silence Dolphins, 27-0

James snares 2 INTs

Ravens-Titans winner next

Game was Oakland's 1st in playoffs since '93

January 07, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. - Two franchise relocations, two decades, a renamed stadium and the longest postseason absence in team history preceded the Oakland Raiders' return to yesterday's playoff stage. After the 27-0 whipping they administered to the AFC East champion Miami Dolphins, forcing them to leave it might prove to be an even tougher chore.

An efficient performance by Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon and a dazzling two-interception day by little-known cornerback Tory James provided personality to the wipeout. Gannon ran for almost as many yards as the entire Dolphins backfield. All James did was give the Raiders two interceptions, a forced fumble and a touchdown before their initial first down.

James described his day as "like I was in a dream." The sensation applied to many of his teammates, who awake today only four quarters from their first Super Bowl in 17 years.

The win also transformed the Raiders into Ravens fans. A Ravens upset of the Tennessee Titans today means the Raiders will be host to next Sunday's AFC championship game. A win by the Titans takes the game to Nashville.

"Right now, we would like to be playing at home," Raiders outside linebacker William Thomas said. "Our fans are electrifying."

Locals refer to one end of Network Associates Coliseum - Oakland-Alameda Coliseum in a previous era - as "The Black Hole." The Raiders have won eight of nine games here this season, and they stoke their black-and-silver crazies with AC/DC music and a live rap end-zone act minutes before kickoff. Yesterday, the silver-and-black revealed itself as more than a stage show.

Oakland coach Jon Gruden called the atmosphere "relentless," and Gannon said the crowd was one of the pivotal factors in a game that never allowed the Dolphins to breathe.

"I have never seen anything like this before today," Gruden said. "From the music to the costumes to the noise, it was relentless."

The shutout was the first in playoff history by the Raiders' defense or Dolphins' offense. It also ended a run of three road wins in as many years by Miami in Oakland.

For the Dolphins, this was more of the same. The wipeout marked the seventh consecutive time they have lost their second game of a postseason. Even more unsightly, they have lost their last three divisional games by a combined 127-10 score.

To suck the emotion from the raucous crowd, the ground-oriented Dolphins required an early lightning strike. Instead, they became the conductor.

Everything turned on quarterback Jay Fiedler's third pass during the run-oriented Dolphins' opening drive. With his team at the Raiders' 17-yard line and ready to take the game's first lead, Fiedler misread coverage. His throw to Leslie Shepherd instead went to James, who had refused to follow a decoy receiver toward the sideline. James took the interception 90 yards untouched for a touchdown.

The interception was one of four Dolphins turnovers and one of two that led to Raiders touchdowns. James also broke up a fourth-down pass and was stripped of a second touchdown by an official's call.

"It was a big play and we fed off it," James said. "It seemed like it got us started. I'm just happy to be part of this - a great team and a great organization."

"We felt like we had to start fast," Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt said. "We talked about that all week. That's what the Raiders had done up here. They were averaging 40 points a game in their last five wins. We felt like we had to start fast.

"Then the turnover just really ... deflated us a little bit. Then the other turnover resulted in another touchdown. When you're on the road and lose the turnover battle three or four to one, you can't expect to win."

The Dolphins had trailed the Indianapolis Colts 14-0 at halftime before rallying for an overtime win in the previous week's wild-card game. But that comeback was in Miami with a much healthier running game and against a team inferior to the Raiders.

Running back Lamar Smith powered the Dolphins' overtime win over the Colts with 209 yards on 40 taxing carries but had little left for yesterday. The Colts game left Smith so bruised that Wann- stedt did not put him in pads during last week's practices.

Even before a 20-0 deficit turned the Dolphins into a strictly passing offense yesterday, Smith managed only 5 yards on his first six attempts, including a second-quarter fumble.

Urged on by a crowd of 61,998 that reveled in the first postseason game in the city since Dec. 28, 1980, and the team's first playoff appearance since 1993, the Raiders allowed the Dolphins no signs of life.

Miami managed only one first down in the second quarter, and that was tainted by Jones' fumble at the end of a 10-yard run. The Raiders ran 22 of the quarter's 29 plays, accounted for 132 yards compared with the Dolphins' 34, and consumed 11:29 on their two scoring drives.

The Dolphins never managed a rushing first down against the league's fourth-ranked rushing defense. Meanwhile, the Raiders rolled up scoring drives of 4:44, 7:15 and 6:50 against one of the league's elite defenses, ranked fourth overall in the NFL.

"Offensively, we know that if we are doing what we're supposed to do, we can move the ball against anyone," wide receiver Tim Brown said.

The Raiders' offense moved with the grace of a sledgehammer. Gannon spread 12 completions among seven receivers. They amassed 140 yards rushing but needed 45 tries to get it. Gannon scrambled three times for first downs on scoring drives.

Miami 0 0 0 0 - 0

Oakland 10 10 7 0 - 27

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