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Raiders Are Back on Track

Oakland rallies from a late 14-point deficit to defeat the Chargers in overtime, 34-31, on a 46-yard field goal by Janikowski.

September 29, 2003|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

OAKLAND — Four games removed from a Super Bowl, the Oakland Raiders were on the verge of swirling down a silver and black hole of their own making.

From quarterback Rich Gannon's temper tantrums to center Barret Robbins' bipolar disorder to linebacker Bill Romanowski's career-threatening concussion to kicker Sebastian Janikowski's late-night shenanigans, disharmony and distractions rode the Raiders like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The beneficiaries appeared to be the hapless San Diego Chargers, who led by 14 points with six minutes to play in regulation Sunday.

But in a startling turnabout, the Raiders scored two touchdowns to force overtime, where they won, 34-31, on a 46-yard field goal by Janikowski.

"We finally overcame our bad plays," safety Rod Woodson said.

"We finally overcame the refs. We finally overcame ourselves."

Instead of screaming at coaches as he had done a week earlier in an embarrassing loss to Denver, Gannon passed for half of his 348 yards after the third quarter.

Instead of languishing on the bench as he had since his well-publicized suspension from the Super Bowl, Robbins protected Gannon and opened holes for a revitalized running game that produced 120 yards.

Instead of surrendering after being plowed over by Charger tailback LaDainian Tomlinson for three quarters, linebacker Travian Smith made Romanowski's absence tolerable, tackling Tomlinson for a one-yard loss on a key third-down play late in regulation.

And instead of letting his most recent arrest for alcohol-fueled misbehavior affect his strong left leg, Janikowski booted the game-winner off the soft infield dirt at Network Associates Coliseum, the ball set where shortstop Miguel Tejada normally patrols during A's games.

"It was a determined, gritty effort," Raider Coach Bill Callahan said.

"I hope this game served as a launching pad."

The comeback enabled the Raiders (2-2) to avoid sharing the cellar in the AFC West with the Chargers (0-4), who have lost eight in a row.

"I thought we had it," Tomlinson said. "They know how to win games and we don't."

Tomlinson rushed for 187 yards, including a 55-yard, second-quarter touchdown run, but only 21 came after the third quarter.

He sat out the Chargers' first overtime possession because of tightness in his left knee and lost one yard in his only overtime carry.

Displaying more stamina were Oakland's ageless Hall of Fame-bound receivers, Jerry Rice and Tim Brown.

Rice, 40, shook off four drops by making seven catches for 118 yards.

He made a key adjustment on the first play of Oakland's winning drive, changing a slant route into a streak and catching Gannon's pass for a 29-yard gain.

Brown, 37, had six catches for 116 yards, including the first Raider score on a 36-yard, fourth-down reception less than four minutes into the game.

San Diego came back with a bold play of its own. Quarterback Drew Brees handed off to Tomlinson, then took a pass from the tailback for a 21-yard touchdown.

It was the first Charger touchdown in a first quarter in 10 games and showed that the offense would be undeterred by the absence of receiver David Boston, suspended for the game by Coach Marty Schottenheimer.

Brees connected with three rookie receivers -- Dondre Gilliam, Antonio Gates and Kassim Osgood -- who previously had one catch among them, and hooked up with second-year tight end Justin Peelle for a touchdown.

Until the last six minutes of regulation, in fact, the Chargers missed their absent star less than the Raiders missed theirs.

Romanowski had a streak of 243 games in a row end, sitting out because of a head injury.

Romanowski, a 16-year veteran, said he has been diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome and is "exploring his options" regarding a return. He had played in every game since being drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 1988.

"I've had several concussions this season," he said. "Something is going to take you out eventually."

And eventually a banished Raider gets a second chance. In Robbins' case, it was because of a sputtering offense. The All-Pro center had been benched since his pre-Super Bowl drinking binge and diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

He played well enough that even his harshest critic, guard Frank Middleton, sang his praises.

"He played good, he came out and called the blocking schemes and played hard," said Middleton, who ripped Robbins after the Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay.

Said Gannon, who lambasted the play-calling of Callahan and offensive coordinator Marc Trestman only a week ago: "Marc and Bill did a great job staying with the [plays] we talked about all week. We didn't come unhinged."

Had the Chargers held their lead, would the Raiders have held their tongues?

With the uncertainty involving Romanowski and Janikowski, who could face charges of assault, vandalism and being drunk in public, enough adversity seemingly awaits for there to be ample opportunity to find out.

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