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Raiders Seem Lost in Defeat

Oakland's offense can't get on track and defense looks terrible as Plummer leads Denver to a 31-10 rout of its AFC West rival.

September 23, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — Jerry Rice doesn't need a stat sheet to know the Oakland Raiders are in trouble. All he needs are ears.

"People are on to us right now," the All-Pro receiver said Monday after a humiliating 31-10 loss to the Denver Broncos. "They've got our number. We have to regroup and start doing something a little more different. I'm not saying we're predictable, but when you've got the opponent out there calling out plays, and they know what's coming, then we've got a problem."

Conversely, Oakland's defense didn't have a clue. That was plain to see as the Broncos surged ahead by more than four touchdowns and cruised to an easy victory.

"It was very embarrassing," Raider tackle Lincoln Kennedy said. "You're in front of, what, 60 million people? Worldwide television? We had to get a quick score on the board. You can't get a goose egg."

How bad did it feel for the Raiders? "Like somebody just walked into the house and slapped my mom," Oakland guard Frank Middleton said.

The Raiders (1-2), who haven't been shut out in the regular season since a 30-0 loss at Kansas City on Dec. 7, 1997, looked as if they were headed for a blanking when they fell behind, 31-0, in the third quarter. But Oakland spoiled the shutout bid when Zack Crockett scored on a four-yard touchdown run with 5:21 remaining in the third quarter.

The offensive star of the night was Denver quarterback Jake Plummer, who ran for a touchdown and threw for two more. It was his first game before a home crowd since the exhibition opener against Indianapolis, when he played so poorly Bronco fans booed him.

People in Denver started calling Plummer "Jake the Mistake" after he had three interceptions and no touchdowns in the opener against Cincinnati, which the Broncos won. Plummer played better last week against San Diego before suffering a slightly separated shoulder. Monday, he played one of the better games of his career.

"It's always nice to see someone step up into the pocket and scramble and make a couple big plays like he did," Denver Coach Mike Shanahan said of Plummer, who rushed for 48 yards in five carries -- more than Oakland's rushing total (39 yards).

The Broncos (3-0), tied with Kansas City for first place in the AFC West, have not trailed this season and have scored on their first possession in every game.

The Raiders, nine months removed from an appearance in the Super Bowl, look lost. They were outgained by the Broncos, 383 yards to 195, and had 13 penalties to Denver's six.

"I think teams have caught up to us," Raider Coach Bill Callahan said. "I would freely admit that. That was indicative tonight.... We're going to have to go back and retool this thing. It's pretty obvious we're not getting it done in the manner in which we had."

The statistics from the first quarter showed how lopsided things got. The Raiders collected seven yards to Denver's 170 and averaged 0.64 yards per play. They failed to get a first down -- Denver had seven -- and were badly out of position on two of the Broncos' three touchdowns in the quarter.

The first touchdown came when Plummer rolled left and dinked a pass to Shannon Sharpe, who ran straight through the heart of Oakland's defense for an 18-yard score.

The Broncos took a 14-0 lead on their next possession, when Plummer connected on a deep pass with Ashley Lelie for a 44-yard touchdown. When Lelie caught the ball, there were no defenders near him.

Raider quarterback Rich Gannon, who set an NFL record at Denver last year by completing 21 consecutive passes, was unable to string two completions together in the first quarter. In fact, the Raiders were down three touchdowns by the time Gannon had his second of two completions in the period.

Not everything went Denver's way in the first half, though. Receiver Rod Smith was ejected in the second quarter after fighting with Oakland defensive tackle Chris Cooper. Smith threw a punch as the two were pulled apart, and, instead of hitting Cooper, he hit umpire Undrey Wash.

But the Raiders didn't even get satisfaction out of the personal foul on Smith, because Oakland linebacker Eric Barton took off his helmet during the skirmish and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. The penalties were offsetting, and Denver had a first down.

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