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Raiders Finally Give Up the Ghost

They put bitter loss in last season's playoffs behind them with 27-20 win over Patriots.

November 18, 2002|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

OAKLAND — Six days after doing away with one ghost -- winning at Denver for the first time in eight tries -- the Oakland Raiders rid themselves of another Sunday with a 27-20 victory over New England.

It wasn't so long ago that New England players were frolicking in a Foxboro blizzard, beating the Raiders in an AFC semifinal game that hinged on a controversial no-fumble call, then forming snow angels in the end zone. The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl. The Raiders spent the next 10 months quietly fuming over the "snow job," and plotting their revenge.

Sunday, that comeuppance arrived.

"They took something very valuable from us last year," Raider tight end Roland Williams said. "They took the world championship and our chance to win one. You try to be professional and forget about it. However, you can't. Because we stayed up many a night being very sick about what happened in Foxboro.... This is a nice punch in the gut."

And a mighty body blow it was, considering how tight the playoff race is becoming. The Raiders (6-4) have the same record as three other AFC teams and are a game behind San Diego and Denver in the AFC West.

All of a sudden, Oakland's four-game losing streak -- which came on the heels of a 4-0 start -- seems like a bad dream.

The Raider defense hurried Patriot quarterback Tom Brady all night, sacking him four times and keeping New England's offense out of the end zone. The Patriots' two touchdowns came on a bizarre 48-yard interception return by linebacker Tedy Bruschi -- who grabbed the football when it ricocheted off a teammate's shoe -- and an 86-yard kickoff return by Kevin Faulk with 59 seconds to play.

Faulk's runback provided a flicker of hope for the Patriots, who a week earlier pulled off a 21-point comeback victory over Chicago. But Oakland recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock. The crowd of 62,552 roared its approval, and fans waved signs reading "It was a fumble," a reference to Brady's apparent turnover in the January playoff game.

(Foxboro flashback: The Patriots were trailing, 13-10, with less than two minutes left in regulation. They moved inside the Oakland 30, when a blitzing Charles Woodson hit Brady and jarred the ball loose. Raider linebacker Greg Biekert recovered the would-be turnover. But, after reviewing the play, officials cited the little-known tuck rule, overturned the call and ruled it an incomplete pass. The Patriots went on to win in overtime).

There was no denying Brady fumbled once -- maybe even three times -- in Sunday's rematch. The first came late in the second quarter, when he was sacked at the New England nine by Chris Cooper, who also raked the ball out of the quarterback's hand. Fellow defensive end Trace Armstrong pounced on the fumble, and the Raiders scored less than a minute later when Rich Gannon ran in from the two.

Twice in the fourth quarter, it looked as if Brady might have fumbled, but both plays were ruled incomplete passes -- and neither was reviewed. The first came on first down at the Patriot eight, when Armstrong hit him from behind as he was setting up to throw. On replays, Brady's arm didn't appear to be moving forward before the ball was knocked out of his hand.

Later, on one of New England's two failed fourth-down attempts of the fourth quarter, Brady dropped back and again was stripped by Armstrong. Linebacker Bill Romanowski scooped up the ball and ran 40 yards into the end zone. That, too, was ruled an incomplete pass, and replays seemed to bolster that call.

"It sure looked like a fumble to me," Romanowski said.

Regardless, it was a rough night for Brady, the Super Bowl MVP who grew up in the Bay Area and was making his first return home since playing in the East-West Shrine Game at Stanford as a senior at Michigan.

Against the Raiders, he was 18 of 30 for 172 yards.

"I think a lot of it was stuff we were doing wrong," said Brady, who began the game by completing his first eight passes. "It comes down to me getting the ball to the right guy and us being in the right spot and blocking well. When you don't play well, you get beat."

Raider running back Zack Crockett scored twice on two-yard runs up the middle.

After each touchdown, Crockett worked the crowd into a lather by striking a muscleman pose in the end zone. Call it an Oakland snow angel.

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