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Oakland's Gannon keeps foes on toes

Quarterback adds a dimension to offense

Posted: Thursday, January 11, 2001

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon spent most of his career scrambling for a job. Now he's running around driving other teams crazy.

''You see the guys on the field, and you know they're getting frustrated when the DBs are saying 'Get him! Get him! Get him!' And they're not talking about you or the running backs,'' Raiders receiver Tim Brown said.

Gannon ran five times for four first downs in the Raiders' 27-0 victory over Miami on Saturday. Oakland (13-4) will face Baltimore (14-4) on Sunday in the AFC championship game.

''Rich's ability to get those first downs, when it's third-and-5 or less, is one of the reasons we're here,'' Brown said.

Gannon, selected to the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro Team, was second on the league's top rushing offense -- behind Tyrone Wheatley -- with 89 carries for 529 yards and four touchdowns.

Among quarterbacks, his rushing yards ranked first in the AFC and second in the league. No other Raiders quarterback has ever run for as many yards in a regular season.

He can pass, too. The 35-year-old NFL journeyman had his second-straight 3,000-yard passing season, with 29 touchdowns.

''Rich has caused problems for everybody we've played this year,'' cornerback Charles Woodson said.

The Ravens, on the other side of the ball, had the league's top run defense this season.

''I think we're a very good offense, running the football, we've been doing a great job with it all year,'' Gannon said. ''Obviously, we haven't faced a challenge like this, against the team that as good as anybody at stopping the run.''

Gannon, a 13-year-veteran, spent years toiling as a backup in the NFL before landing with the Raiders last season. Last week was his first start in a playoff game.

''I think the people who've watched me in the past several years know I can play, and I think that the Raiders knew that when they brought me here in two years ago,'' he said. ''I don't know that it's a huge surprise to very many people.''

The Ravens are fortunate, coach Brian Billick said, because they've faced some unusually mobile quarterbacks in their division -- including Kordell Stewart, Mark Brunell and Steve McNair.

''That's a two-headed monster that you've got to be very careful about, particularly at the wrong time -- mostly on third down -- that can keep a drive alive and make it tough to stop,'' Billick said. ''In that sense we're fortunate in that we come from a division where we face that every week.''

Gannon, Billick said, has his own unique abilities. The two crossed paths in 1992 when both were with the Minnesota Vikings.

''He's incredibly fast and quick, particularly for a guy his age. And he's smart,'' Billick said. ''He picks his spots when to go, he doesn't just arbitrarily take off.

''Where he really kills you is when he moves around the pocket, starts top run, back up, and give you that little throw.''

Gannon is much more modest about his ability.

''I've had a pretty good year. I'm just trying to stay focused,'' he said. ''I've tried to do that all year -- try to put our team in a position each week to win and hopefully I'll continue to do that.''



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