Gannon has Raiders unbeaten, but is understandably cautious

For past three years, QB has seen sweet starts sour

October 11, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The rampaging Oakland Raiders are built for September and October, not for December and January.

They are good when the season is new and the injuries are negligible. They are just so-so when the season is advanced and old wounds won't heal.

The past three years, the Raiders have watched great starts dissolve into sour, unfulfilled finishes. They started 8-1 in 2000 and 6-1 in 2001, but neither season ended with the Super Bowl.

Instead, Oakland saw the Ravens' Tony Siragusa fall on quarterback Rich Gannon to snuff out their 2000 campaign and winced as officials wiped out a New England Patriots fumble to terminate 2001.

So you can excuse Gannon for sounding cautious about this year's 4-0 start, which leaves the Raiders as the only undefeated team in the NFL.

"We've played four games and I'm not saying this is an absolute, but there's a chance that all four of those teams [Seattle, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Buffalo] don't make the playoffs," he said this week. "Where does that really put us as a football team and how good of a football team are we? The next five or six weeks will certainly give us a better indication rather than the first four weeks."

Since 1999, the Raiders are 20-6 in September and October, but only 9-10 in December and January. As much as anything, it's a story of age. They have 16 players on their roster who are 30 years or older, eight of them starters.

They have the oldest starting lineup in the league and the second oldest roster. By NFL standards, they are ancient. But it's October, so they're still unstoppable.

In their four wins, the Raiders have crushed their opponents by a combined 162-90. They have averaged 40.5 points and 462 yards on offense to lead the league in both categories. Gannon, a master of the West Coast offense, leads the league in passing.

"You know what the scary thing is?" wide receiver Jerry Rice asked after the Raiders rolled up 495 yards in a 49-31 demolition of the Buffalo Bills in Week 5. "I don't think anyone is really satisfied with what went down today. We won the football game, but we could have been better. This offense is going to be something really special."

It already is. And when the Raiders visit the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, they can take an unofficial handoff as the Greatest Show on Earth from the former Greatest Show on Turf. The Rams are 0-5 and they're probably not going to the playoffs, either.

New Raiders coach Bill Callahan, who took over when Jon Gruden left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last February, admits he has borrowed some offensive wrinkles from St. Louis coach Mike Martz. The Raiders like to spread the field, often with three wide-outs and one back.

"We're still trying to be on the cutting edge, so to speak, like Mike has been," Callahan said in a conference call this week. "In the offseason and during the course of the season, the Rams were always a team that we looked at strongly on film because they've always got innovative ideas and they use personnel properly and intelligently."

The Raiders are able to capitalize on Gannon's short passing game with game-breakers like Rice and Tim Brown at wide receiver. Rice has a non-scoring 75-yard reception, Brown has a 41-yard touchdown catch and running back Charlie Garner has a 69-yard touchdown catch. Third-year receiver Jerry Porter provides yet another playmaker.

For Gannon, who arrived in 1999, it's been an ongoing process.

"I just think it's the gradual evolution of where we've been and where we've come from," he said. "We've been adding and putting this thing together for a number of years. ... We're experimenting and we've always done that, but I think we've actually taken it to a little bit of a different level with all the different new people that we're using and formations and personnel groupings."

Now all they have to do is figure out how to stay healthy in December and January.

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