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Too Much of a Good Thing for Raiders?

November 08, 1994|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

John Unitas had Raymond Berry. Joe Montana had Jerry Rice. Terry Bradshaw had Lynn Swann.

Every great quarterback seems to find a favorite receiver, find him through onrushing linemen, through heavy traffic in the secondary, through good games and bad games.

Some call it radar. Some call instinct. Some call it magic.

So it has been since the forward pass was born. So it is with Jeff Hostetler and Tim Brown.

So what's wrong with that? So why are people shaking their heads when Hostetler fades back and scans the field, looking for No. 81?

Because that's all he has done at times this season. Because the Raiders' highly publicized receiving corps, a track team in cleats, has become a one-man race. Because the best offense in the world will fail if it becomes predictable.

Coming off a season in which he caught 80 passes for 1,180 yards, both career highs, in his first year with Hostetler, Brown is back on a similar pace this season with 50 catches in nine games for 742 yards and six touchdowns.

But where is everybody else? Where is Rocket Ismail, who didn't get his nickname from jogging? Where is Alexander Wright, two-time winner of the NFL's Fastest Man race? Where is James Jett, a former gold medal-winning Olympic track star?

This group combined has caught 28 passes.

When the Raiders were defeated Sunday in Kansas City, 13-3, Brown was the only wide receiver who caught a pass. Jett hasn't caught one in five games. Over that same span, Wright has caught five and Ismail three.

There's no disputing the effectiveness of Hostetler and Brown, who have hooked up on 130 passes in a year and a half.

A week ago at the Coliseum, they gave a brilliant demonstration of their teamwork. The Raiders, down by four points to the Houston Oilers with two minutes to play, had a first down at the Houston 11.

Hostetler faded back and looked for Brown but found him covered in the right corner of the end zone. So off Hostetler streaked for the right sideline, hoping Brown could shake the coverage.

And, sure enough, Brown broke loose and cut back across the end zone. Hostetler delivered the game-winning touchdown pass.

"I just wanted to get it in Tim's hands," Hostetler said. "Once there, it's pretty safe."

But when the passing game is ineffective, as it has been much of this season with the Raiders falling to 4-5 and possibly to the brink of playoff elimination, the answer has to be more than only Brown.

Does he feel the Raiders might be looking to him too much?

"Not when you're completing the pass," Brown said. "When you're completing passes, you can never get it thrown to you too much. When things aren't working, you want somebody else to get it if they are doubling me. (Sunday), we came to the sidelines a couple of times and said, 'Let's go to the other side.' "

And they did. It's not as if Hostetler is wearing blinders. He has looked elsewhere for receivers on occasion this year, but the results have not been satisfactory. Jett has dropped several crucial throws. Ismail has been open, only to see passes sail over his head or drop short. Hostetler has not been as accurate as he was a year ago.

Coach Art Shell said, "When you've got a great player like Tim Brown, and you know that he's working hard to get open, (Jeff) might rely on Tim a whole lot, which, of course, he does. Everybody's got to work to get open and Jeff will find them."

He hasn't so far.

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