NEW ORLEANS — It wasn't the loss of star running back Ricky Williams in the last game. It wasn't the loss of starting quarterback Jeff Blake in the first quarter.
It was the gutsy performance of Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon, especially down the stretch Sunday when he ate up the clock and contributed two touchdowns, that snapped the New Orleans Saints' six-game winning streak, 31-22.
"Super performance given the circumstances in this game," Oakland Coach Jon Gruden said. "There was a lot of pressure, a lot of emotion in this game. He made a lot of creative plays and was brilliant down the stretch."
Gannon shook off five sacks and steady pressure to engineer five scoring drives. "He made some unreal plays," Saint linebacker Keith Mitchell said. "We had him sewn up a few times and he just got out of it. He was really on today."
Although Oakland had only 295 yards, the Raiders (9-2) converted 60% of their third-down plays and held the ball for almost four minutes longer than the Saints. Working against the No. 3 defense in the NFL, Gannon completed 14 of 21 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Gannon had been sacked just 18 times in the first 10 games, but was dropped by the Saints five times for a loss of 34 yards. Coming into the game, the Saints led the NFL with 44 sacks.
Gannon also was the Raiders' leading rusher with 55 yards on seven carries. Oakland, ranked No. 6 in rushing and averaging 134 yards a game, was without Tyrone Wheatley, who also sat out last Monday night's game because of sprained ankles.
"We caught them in some man coverage," Gannon said, "and I stepped up in the pocket and found myself with some gaping holes."
The Saints (7-4), their offense already depleted by the loss of Williams who broke his ankle in last week's game, lost Blake in the first quarter. Blake fractured and dislocated his right foot when defensive end Lance Johnstone landed on it. He may have surgery this week.
Aaron Brooks, who had done little more than occasionally take a knee in his two-year career, replaced Blake.
Brooks was sacked for a six-yard loss on his first series. On his first pass in the next series, Brooks was intercepted. Four plays later, Gannon connected with Andre Rison for a 34-yard touchdown pass that put the Raiders up 10-0. Oakland stretched the lead to 17-0 when Zack Crockett capped a 50-yard drive with a six-yard run. Crockett ran for a second six-yard touchdown in the closing minutes. Gannon also threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Tim Brown in the fourth quarter.
Brooks came up with a 53-yard touchdown pass to Willie Jackson to trim Oakland's halftime lead to 17-7. Brooks also connected with Jackson for a nine-yard touchdown play with 1:09 left. Brooks completed 14 of 22 for 187 yards and two touchdowns. He also was intercepted once and sacked three times.