Jets-Raiders game today may look a lot like last week's

With so much at stake, neither had many secrets

January 12, 2002|By SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS

ALAMEDA, Calif. - The New York Jets went looking for trouble last Sunday in Oakland.

"It was like the movie Gladiator when they were out there in the middle in a circle with their shields," cornerback Ray Mickens said. "During the warm-ups, we went over in the corner by the Black Hole, and the crowd was screaming like they wanted our heads. We just looked at the green and white. That's all we had. That's how we focus on the road."

It might be crazy, egging on the Raiders' notorious rooting section. But it heightened the Jets' us-against-the-world attitude with good results. They won, 24-22, to finish 7-1 on the road (they were 3-5 at the Meadowlands). As surely as they are coming back to Network Associates Coliseum today, they'll be back near the Black Hole.

That's hardly the only similarity between the regular-season finale and the playoff opener. Xerox will not be sponsoring the game plans, but the teams could not back off the first time, the way Tampa Bay and Philadelphia did for their meaningless game. At stake were a first-round bye for the Raiders and a playoff berth for the Jets.

Wide receiver Tim Brown has been in this situation before. The Raiders played Kansas City back-to-back in 1991 (they lost both games) and Denver in '93 (they won both).

"There are no punches to hide," Brown said. "Everybody knows what's going to happen. They know what routes I'm going to run. I know how they're going to cover."

Perhaps that gives the Raiders an advantage. After all, the Jets' three touchdowns came when they a) went 40 yards with a screen pass caught behind the line of scrimmage; b) blocked a punt using an unconventional rush they had in storage for a year; and c) gave short-yardage back LaMont Jordan his only carry, which he turned into a 46-yard run.

Clearly, the Jets were pulling out all the stops. Or were they? Watch out if the Jets run a play from the Raiders' 18-yard line. In each of the past two seasons, running back Curtis Martin has thrown one pass: an 18-yard touchdown.

"They're going to have some different wrinkles for us," Raiders linebacker Elijah Alexander said, "and I'm sure we're going to have some for them."

For the most part, coaches put in the game plan last week. But they learned plenty about each other that sent them back to the drawing board. The Raiders learned the Jets were more concerned with knocking down Rich Gannon's passes than with knocking down Gannon. The Jets learned the Raiders still have the key to stopping Martin, who gained only 50 yards and has 61 in the teams' past two meetings.

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