Oakland cools Pennington's Jets

Posted: Monday, January 13, 2003

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders found the surest road to the AFC championship game: Stay at home and avoid controversy.

No tuck rule. No snowy night games in New England. No Tom Brady.

In beating the New York Jets 30-10 Sunday, league MVP Rich Gannon and the Raiders made it a clean sweep for the home teams this weekend. They will host the Tennessee Titans next Sunday with a spot in the Super Bowl at stake.

Third-year receiver Jerry Porter outperformed his heralded fellow wideouts, Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, catching a 29-yard touchdown pass and setting up Rice's 9-yard score with a 50-yard reception.

Rice's catch was his 21st postseason touchdown, tying an NFL record. The 40-year-old receiver also set a record for yards in the playoffs with 2,132 in an 18-year career.

Oakland's defense harassed the usually unflappable Chad Penning-ton, and forced four turnovers to beat the Jets for the third time in four games at the ''Black Hole'' in the last year. After a strong first half, Pennington came undone, throwing high, forcing passes and looking rattled.

The Raiders got pickoffs from Tory James and Eric Barton in the second half, and recovered two fumbles, both by Pennington, in earning their second trip to the AFC title game in three years. In the 2000 season, they lost at home to Baltimore 16-3 for the conference crown.

Their most painful loss came at the Patriots last January in the infamous tuck-rule game. The Raiders vowed nothing like that -- or anything else -- would stop them from their first trip to the Super Bowl in 19 years.

They have won eight of their last nine, and next week's opponent, the Titans, lost here 52-25 on Sept. 29.

Pennington, the league's most efficient passer in his first season as a starter, finished 21-of-47 for 183 yards and a 44.9 rating. His season's rating was 104.2.

The game was tied 10-10 at halftime. But after Tory James' leaping sideline interception at the Jets 45, Gannon went downfield. He hit Brown for 16 yards, then found Porter streaking down the left sideline against a zone defense. Porter caught the ball in stride for a 29-yard touchdown.

Oakland stopped the Jets on a fourth-and-3 when wide receiver Wayne Chrebet, who struggled all game, slipped on his pattern. Gannon then connected with Porter over the middle for 50 yards. It took three more plays for Gannon to hit Rice in the back of the end zone.

Richie Anderson dropped a handoff despite not being hit on the next series, with Pennington credited with the fumble. But Damien Robinson intercepted Gannon's next pass.

So the Raiders returned the favor as Barton made a nice sideline pickoff, setting up Sebastian Janikowski's 34-yard field goal. Janikowski added a 31-yarder for the final score.

New York, which scored at least 30 points in each of its last three games, got going early on Curtis Martin's 15-yard run and a 20-yard pass-interference penalty against Charles Woodson. John Hall's 38-yard field goal made it 3-0 just about four minutes into the game.

A motion penalty on fourth-and-inches at the New York 7 cost the Raiders early, and they wound up with Janikowski's 29-yard field goal to tie it.

Then the ball got slippery. As he scrambled, Pennington had it knocked from his hands by Travian Smith, who recovered at the Jets 27. Two plays later, Charlie Garner bobbled a handoff, but guard Frank Middleton fell on it when Jets defensive end John Abraham failed to scoop up the loose ball.

It was Garner's first fumble in 387 touches, but it didn't hurt his team. Moments later, Zack Crockett, Oakland's short-yardage specialist, scored his 10th touchdown of the season, from the 1.

Although the Jets moved well on their next possession, they were done in by more mistakes -- a holding penalty on a long run and a dropped pass. Hall then missed wide right on a 49-yard field-goal attempt.

An impressive 81-yard, 7-minute drive on which Pennington was 8-for-9 for 51 yards tied it with 22 seconds left in the half. He converted four third downs with passes before hitting wide-open Jerald Sowell in the flat for a 1-yard score.

Janikowski wasted a strong opening drive in the second half when he was wide left from 28 yards, his shortest miss since failing from 27 on Oct. 20. It didn't matter, however, when Porter went to work and Pennington fell apart.

It was the second straight year the Raiders ended the Jets' season here in a playoff game. These teams have had some of the most memorable and bitter meetings in NFL history, but this game was a lopsided Raiders celebration.



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