Amid rotten year, Raiders make fine spoilers

Callahan praises his team's pride after upset of Ravens

Raiders 20, Ravens 12

Nfl Week 15

December 15, 2003|By Kevin Eck | Kevin Eck,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Two weeks ago, Oakland Raiders head coach Bill Callahan referred to his squad as the "dumbest team in America." The next week, some in the media suggested the team had quit.

Although it's debatable whether the Raiders actually got smarter yesterday, there's no doubt the Ravens were sent home smarting after suffering a 20-12 defeat at Network Associates Coliseum. And instead of raising the white flag, the Raiders seemed to relish their role as a spoiler.

"It feels a lot better to pull one off when you're playing a team that has a lot to play for," said Raiders quarterback Rick Mirer, who completed 16 of 35 passes for 186 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. "Regardless of what our record is, it feels good to beat somebody. We are playing for our pride and how much we care about each other."

Oakland (4-10), the defending AFC champion, had entered the game having lost three straight and eight of its past nine. The victory prompted Callahan to praise his team's character rather than question its intelligence.

"I felt strong about our performance today," Callahan said. "It was indicative of the pride that they have. To beat a playoff team like this speaks volumes of the team's effort."

The Raiders, who were coming off a 27-7 loss at Pittsburgh, set the tone early. On the third play of the game, Oakland cornerback Phillip Buchanon intercepted Anthony Wright's pass intended for Frank Sanders and returned it 29 yards to the Ravens' 1-yard-line. Zack Crockett's 1-yard run on the next play gave the Raiders a 7-0 lead just 55 seconds into the game.

"I can't say enough about the fast start that our defense provided," Callahan said.

The Raiders still made their share of mistakes yesterday, including some dropped passes and costly penalties, but they refused to relinquish the lead against a Ravens team that was averaging nearly 39 points during a three-game winning streak that had put it on top in the AFC North.

The Ravens, who entered the fourth quarter trailing 17-12, moved the ball to the Raiders' 27 early in the period. But on second down, linebacker Napoleon Harris forced Wright to fumble, and defensive end Tyler Brayton recovered it for Oakland at the 32. Oakland converted the turnover into a 23-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski with 5:58 remaining, and the Ravens never entered Raiders territory again.

"The guys came out and played hard today," Raiders wide receiver Tim Brown said, "and anytime we play like that, we're going to win the football game. You always want to end the year on a positive note. Obviously we're not going to the playoffs. If we can win these last two games, I think it will be a very good sign for us."

While the Raiders savored the win, knocking off a first-place team also caused some in the Oakland locker room to ponder what might have been in a season filled with injuries and close losses. Despite their record, six of the Raiders' defeats were by seven points or fewer, including three losses by a field goal.

"We could say `if' all day," Raiders wide receiver Jerry Porter said. "If a couple things went our way, we might be in the playoffs right now."

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