Not just Raiders' pride is hurting

In Super Bowl a year ago, Oakland 3-10 as injuries cut deeply into roster

December 13, 2003|By Vittorio Tafur | Vittorio Tafur,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ALAMEDA, Calif. - In what has been an unbelievably fast fall after reaching last year's Super Bowl, the Oakland Raiders enter tomorrow's game against the Ravens torn between salvaging some pride and just letting the season play out and starting again next year.

"I think as professionals we want to do our best," Oakland coach Bill Callahan said. "We want to go out and put our best play on film, because we are being evaluated constantly and not just internally within our organization, but across the league."

This a week after Callahan's evaluation that the Raiders (3-10) "were the dumbest team in America."

There's been plenty of dumb bad luck, too. Quarterback Rich Gannon and wide receiver Jerry Porter were injured in a Week 1 loss to Tennessee, Porter missing five games with a hernia. With the deep threat missing, Oakland's offense became predictable and Gannon's confidence took a week-by-week hit behind a shaky offensive line.

Last year's league Most Valuable Player, Gannon, 38, was bad in the Super Bowl - a 48-21 Tampa Bay victory - and worse this season. He was inaccurate and seemed to have lost a step, unable to get out of traffic in the backfield. By the seventh game, he and his injured right shoulder had had enough. He called it a season, just like defensive end Trace Armstrong (elbow, shoulder) and linebacker Bill Romanowski (concussion) had done, and as backup quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo (knee) and safety Rod Woodson (knee) did weeks later.

This is no injury bug. This is an epidemic. Right guard Mo Collins (left knee) this week will become the 11th player from the 53-man opening-day roster to go on injured reserve.

"I don't think I've ever seen 10 guys on [injured reserve], nine guys, whatever it is," receiver Tim Brown said. "It's like mini-camp around here. You walk around, `Your name is ... ?' It's pretty weird for this time of year to have this situation going on, but we're trying to maintain, man."

By season's end, 12 players who started at least half of the time last season will have missed a combined 70 games. Those 12 players missed a combined eight games in 2002.

"By and large, the majority of our team, we were fortunate to remain healthy a year ago and take that run," Callahan said. "This year we haven't been as fortunate. ... Injuries are going to happen, but not at this number. I have never seen the injury total be this high."

Center Barrett Robbins (right knee) is also out for tomorrow's game, and the Raiders have used seven starting combinations on the offensive line.

Factor in that Oakland has gotten nothing out of its rookie class, the team's habit of getting penalized at the worst moment and a tongue-lashing from cornerback Charles Woodson, and it's easy to see why Callahan finally blew his lid last week. "The whole theme of this year was to play smarter, to play more physically and to play faster. And we didn't achieve the goal," Callahan said.

Oakland has a league-leading 117 penalties (for 937 yards) and is 0-7 on the road.

There was left tackle Barry Sims' four false-start penalties in the first quarter against Tennessee. Or Charles Woodson's pass interference that cost his team in the 25-20 loss. And, 19 penalties - five on consecutive plays - against Cleveland.

Or the Phillip Buchanon chronicles. On Nov. 19, the cornerback had his back turned to a New York Jets punt while clowning for the home fans. Two weeks later, he took his helmet off to celebrate a nice punt return, and the 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty killed a potential game-winning drive that would have started at the Kansas City Chiefs' 26-yard line. Minutes later, a pass-coverage error cost the Raiders the game.

"I don't think you need to overhaul a team," Rod Woodson said. "It's just the little things that make a difference between winning and losing. And the little things can snowball and that's when you wind up with a season like this. Losing is contagious and we got it bad this season."

Next for Ravens

Matchup:Ravens (8-5) vs. Oakland Raiders (3-10)

Site:Network Associates Coliseum, Oakland, Calif.

When:Tomorrow, 4:05 p.m.

TV/Radio:Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line:Ravens by 6 1/2

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