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The Real Team Stood Up Before It Was Too Late

October 10, 1994|MIKE DOWNEY

See how fast things can turn around? The Raiders are on the road to wellville. They are now only one game out of second place--with 11 whole weeks left in the season. Welcome back to the party, boys.

Terry McDaniel and the pirates had a big day Sunday, throwing themselves a little tea party outside Boston. McDaniel intercepted three Patriot passes, or missiles if you must, in making a delightful nuisance of himself for the Raiders in their 21-17 success. And oh, did these guys ever need this kind of game now.

Playing harder on the road than they did at home, same as they did at Denver, these looked more like the real Raiders, the ones who sure have been taking their sweet time showing up. While it was hardly Jeff Hostetler's best day, the defense did a number on New England's Drew Bledsoe, with newcomer Jerry Ball playing good ball and newer-comer Rob Fredrickson playing even better.

For portions of the last two games, whenever the Raiders needed a clutch tackle, on special teams or in the waning minutes, the rookie Fredrickson stepped forward to make it. Check the film. Sunday's game marked the first start for the first-round draft choice, and you might not see him out of the Raider lineup for a while.

It took strong plays like his and Ball's and McDaniel's to make up for the usual assortment of Raider "what were you thinking?" mental mistakes, like guys lining up offside or forgetting to catch kickoffs or hurtling themselves illegally in bids to block New England field-goal attempts like circus people shot out of a cannon. At one point, Andrew Glover sprang into the sky and came down somewhere in the suburbs of Rhode Island.

For a change, the Raiders got away with stuff like this.

In this, a contest involving two rushing attacks that would require three downs to get three yards and a cloud of dust, at least the Raiders did utilize running back Harvey Williams with a heads-up play, a dump pass from Hostetler that the swift Williams turned into a touchdown. Nobody laid a finger on him.

Sadly, the Raider offensive coordinator still needs a missing-persons bureau or Angela Lansbury or some detective to investigate whatever became of Tom Rathman and James Jett. But at least the squad as a whole came together, and can spend the next few days speaking optimistically about being in Miami next week. After all, the Dolphins did look like guppies in their game with Buffalo.

About time something went right for the Raiders. They were overdue to do something right. Analysts theorized that Bledsoe would shred them, but every time the Patriot quarterback threw a ball, McDaniel stepped in front of it. Bledsoe was so rattled that on his final throw of the day, the only man open was James Trapp of the Raiders, so Bledsoe hurled it to him.

Trapp will have to take a ribbing this week when the film of him dropping the ball is shown at practice. Bledsoe's pass came right to him. Trapp could have walked to the end zone on his hands.

No matter. Nobody in camp will have to hide his face this week, the way so many Raiders must have felt like doing over the last month. For four games, the Raiders were so terrible, they couldn't even blame it on the media. A few felt like crawling into holes. Nolan Harrison said the team's play was making him sick to his stomach. Winston Moss said he preferred not to use the word "underachieving," but he sure felt like it.

All the frustration the players were feeling was obvious from the face and voice of Tim Brown toward the end of Sunday's game, when the wide receiver gestured heatedly toward his own sideline after a conservative rushing play on second and long. Either Brown was upset by the strategy or he caught somebody stealing his favorite towel.

But the unlucky Raiders did get the breaks they so badly needed, including a chippy offensive interference call against New England's tight end. That one must have made Eddie Anderson and Lionel Washington laugh, considering the bad calls that went against them in recent weeks.

And then there was Hostetler, who finally got a roughing-the-passer rap called, without anybody having to knock him unconscious. Only two weeks ago, the Raider quarterback blurted out that he hadn't gotten a roughing penalty all last season and probably wouldn't get one this season "unless I was wearing a different number"--one he wouldn't specify but one we suppose might be, oh, a 7 (Mr. Elway) or a 16 (Mr. Montana) or a 12 (Mr. Kelly), hmmm? That what you mean, Hoss?

Hostetler took one hit Sunday that would have knocked out a Jeep. He got up. Then he took another one, an arm to the helmet, that hardly fazed him in the least, but was illegal as could be. And he actually got a call. Credit new strides in NFL officiating, or Hostetler's power of suggestion, or maybe only that the Raiders' bad luck had to end sometime.

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