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Raiders' Burdens Lifted

NFL: Behind Rice, Garner and Janikowski, they beat the Jets, 38-24, in AFC wild-card game.

January 13, 2002|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OAKLAND — Jerry Rice was too old.

Charlie Garner was too hobbled.

Sebastian Janikowski was too weird.

Coming into Saturday evening's wild-card playoff game against the New York Jets at Network Associates Coliseum in front of a sellout crowd of 61,503, the Oakland Raiders were burdened with problems and doubts and a three-game losing streak.

But with the 39-year-old Rice looking like the Rice of old, Garner blowing past the Jets on one good leg and Janikowski back in action and back on target, the Raiders put their troubles behind them with a rousing 38-24 victory that put the Jets' season behind them.

For the Raiders to advance, they had to beat the same team they played six days ago in the same place. In last season's regular-season finale, the Jets edged the Raiders, 24-22, to deny Oakland a bye week.

But that game was a distant memory to the Jets on Saturday night.

"This is the worst way to the end the season," said Jet running back Curtis Martin.

The AFC West-champion Raiders will travel to Foxboro, Mass., to face the New England Patriots on Saturday in a second-round game.

That would not be the case were it not for:

* Rice. The greatest receiver in NFL history, he was supposed to be finished after last season, his vaunted speed slowed by too many seasons and too many trips down the field.

At least that's what the San Francisco 49ers thought. That's why they allowed Rice to slip away as a free agent after last season.

But not the Raiders. Part of their tradition, as much the silver and black, is their success at pumping new life into supposed retreads.

Rice caught 83 passes for 1,139 yards and nine touchdowns in the regular season.

But in the Raiders' biggest game this season, Rice came up as big as ever, catching nine passes for 183 yards and a touchdown, becoming, at 39 years and 91 days, the oldest man to catch a touchdown pass in a playoff game.

"What can you say about Jerry Rice?" Raider Coach Jon Gruden said. "I just can't believe the performance he put on tonight. He may be 39, but remember, George Foreman won the heavyweight title at 44 [actually 45]. Jerry has still got a lot of football in him."

Said Rice, "I really felt young today. Whatever I ate for breakfast, I'm going to make sure I eat the same thing next week."

* Garner. Because of an injured foot, the running back didn't practice Tuesday and Wednesday.

But the Raiders knew they would go only as far as Garner could lead them.

Part of their problem in recent weeks was the failure to establish the running game. They had no such problems Saturday.

Garner rushed for 158 yards, accounting for the biggest chunk of the 215 yards the Raiders had on the ground.

With the Jets still breathing, though faintly, Garner swept around right end on an 80-yard run in the final two minutes to put the game away.

"Charlie was legitimately hurt," Gruden said. "But he has an unbelievable passion to play this game. When the time comes to line up and play, this guy forgets about a lot of the injuries he has or had, and that's why he plays so recklessly."

* Janikowski. He missed last week's game because of cellulitis of the foot. He has also had problems with bar fights and drug busts.

But he came to kick Saturday, getting field goals from 21, 41 and 45 yards.

Every point was needed because the Jets, despite all the Raider heroics, kept hanging around.

While Raider quarterback Rich Gannon was completing 23 of 29 for 294 yards and two touchdowns, New York's Vinny Testaverde was his equal with 27 completions on 41 attempts for 277 yards and three touchdown.

While Rice was sailing through the secondary, his New York counterpart, Laveranues Coles, was doing much the same, catching eight passes for 123 yards.

While Garner was finding holes in the Jet defensive line, his Jet counterpart, Martin, was doing much the same, rushing for 166 yards.

But ultimately the guys with question marks--Rice, Garner and Janikowski--proved to be too much for the Jets.

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