EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Oakland Raiders were playing for something more important than three-game lead in the AFC West or the opportunity to hurt the New York Giants' playoffs chances.
They were playing for family on Sunday -- linebacker William Thomas.
Thomas' half-brother, Derwin Wooten, died unexpectedly on Friday in Amarillo, Texas, and the Raiders dedicated their 28-10 victory over the Giants 28-10 to Thomas.
What made the performance so inspiring wasn't the three touchdown passes thrown by Rich Gannon. It was Thomas himself.
After leaving the team Friday to be with his family, he showed up Sunday morning for the team meal. Thomas then went out and had a team-high eight tackles and three assists.
''He would have wanted me to play,'' Thomas said of his brother. ''I dedicated the game to him. The coach gave me the game ball. I'm going to take it and my jersey and send it off with him.''
Gannon said Thomas' return was a big boost to the Raiders (8-2) before they opened their big lead in the AFC West while nearly knocking the Giants (5-6) out of the playoff picture.
''He's a guy going through a very difficult time who has two families,'' said Gannon. ''He had an obligation to his family, obviously. He also felt deep down inside that he had a obligation to us.''
The Raiders played a near-flawless first half in making sure they won this game for Thomas.
Zack Crockett had a 1-yard touchdown run, Charlie Garner scored on a 21-yard screen pass and Tim Brown scored on a 46-yard pass play as Oakland took a 21-3 lead. Gannon and Brown hooked up on a 19-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Oakland won for the seventh time in eight games.
''What Willie did was one of the most inspiring, emotional things I have ever seen as a coach,'' Jon Gruden of the Raiders said. ''He really inspired a lot of other players, me included, and hopefully a lot of other people. He showed a lot of great character today.''
The performance put the defending NFC champion Giants in a position where they have to win their final five games to have a realistic shot at the playoffs.
''We have to run the table, that's the way I feel,'' Giants tackle Lomas Brown said. ''I hope everybody else in here feels the same way.''
The loss was the second straight and fifth in seven games for the Giants. It also came less than a week after coach Jim Fassel challenged the team to win at least five of its last six games.
Tiki Barber provided most of the Giants' offense, rushing for a season-high 124 yards, including a 12-yard third-quarter TD run. Morten Andersen added a 47-yard field goal.
The Raiders, who came within a game of being the Giants' Super Bowl opponent, embarrassed the Giants in the first half, scoring on three of their first four possessions.
Garner started it with a 38-yard run on the first play from scrimmage, the Raiders' longest run of the season. Gannon kept the drive alive with a 6-yard scramble on third-and-6 at the New York 29, and he hit Jerry Rice for 20 yards two plays later. Crockett capped the 71-yard, eight-play drive.
After a 36-yard run by Barber set up Andersen's field goal, Oakland scored on drives of 63 and 89 yards.
Gannon kept the 63-yard drive alive by hitting Rice with a 14-yard pass on a third-and-7. Garner wasn't touched on the screen pass.
Oakland needed only six plays to go 89 yards after Brown's holding penalty forced the Giants to punt after a 14-play drive. The big chunks came on a 34-yard pass to Rice, which came two plays before Brown burned rookie Will Allen on a post pattern with 1:51 left in the half.
''It's not over for us,'' Giants guard Glenn Parker said. ''Anybody that thinks it is, we don't want them in this locker room.''
Brown finished with six catches for 117 yards. Rice had three receptions for 65 yards.
Notes: Tim Brown's first catch was his 900th of his career, only the fifth player to reach that plateau
Redskins 13, Eagles 3
PHILADELPHIA -- The Washington Redskins could go from worst to first -- in the same season.
Ki-Jana Carter scored his first touchdown in two years, and Washington shut down Donovan McNabb in a 13-3 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
The Redskins are the first team in NFL history to win five straight games after starting the season 0-5. They moved within one game of the first-place Eagles in the NFC East.
Philadelphia (6-4) had won three straight, including its last two by a total of 64 points. But the Eagles went three-and-out on their first five possessions and punted on the first seven.
Washington held the Eagles to 186 yards and seven first downs.
After stopping Philadelphia on fourth-and-3 at their own 35 with 9:25 left, the Redskins held the ball for almost nine minutes before Brett Conway kicked a 32-yard field goal with 30 seconds left.
Redskins quarterback Tony Banks completed 12 of 18 passes for 96 yards, and Stephen Davis ran for 79 yards despite a sore back.
McNabb was 15-of-27 for 92 yards.
Carter gave the Redskins a 7-0 lead on a 5-yard run 63 seconds into the second quarter. He gained 56 yards on 18 carries.
Steelers 34, Titans 24
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Kordell Stewart threw for two touchdowns and ran 48 yards for another score as Pittsburgh won for the first time in five trips to Tennessee.
Stewart tossed touchdown passes of 4 yards to Plaxico Burress and 25 yards to Amos Zereoue. Stewart's TD run gave Pittsburgh its first lead -- 17-14 in the third quarter.
He was 19-of-31 for 254 yards passing and ran eight times for 54 yards for the Steelers (8-2), off to their best start since opening 9-2 in 1983. The Titans dropped to 4-6.
The Titans blew a 14-10 halftime lead and lost their second straight home game despite limiting Jerome Bettis to 73 yards -- nearly 30 below his average.
Bears 13, Vikings 3
MINNEAPOLIS -- Chicago's defense held the Minnesota Vikings' often-potent offense without a touchdown. It was the first time in 98 regular-season games the Vikings did not get into the end zone. The last time the Vikings went without a TD was last January -- a 41-0 defeat to the New York Giants in the NFC championship.
Daunte Culpepper was held without a TD pass for the first time this season as NFC Central-leading Bears improved to 8-2 for the first time since 1991. The Vikings (4-6) fell four games back.
With rookie Anthony Thomas inactive because of a sore hamstring, James Allen rushed 27 times for 107 yards for Chicago.
49ers 40, Colts 21
INDIANAPOLIS -- San Francisco scored 23 points off turnovers, Garrison Hearst ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns, and Jeff Garcia threw for two scores to lead the 49ers.
It was the third consecutive loss for the Colts (4-6) -- their fourth straight at home -- and this one was of their own making.
Peyton Manning threw three second-half interceptions, and the 49ers turned each of those gifts into a touchdown. He was 31-of-51 for 370 yards and one touchdown but threw a career-high four interceptions and was pulled in the final two minutes.
The turnovers weren't the Colts' only miscues -- Indianapolis was called for two personal fouls in the first half and both led to scores for San Francisco.
The 49ers (8-2) took advantage repeatedly to turn a 21-20 deficit into a rout. At one juncture, San Francisco's offense had run 35 plays and scored 27 points.
Garcia completed 14 of 22 passes for 179 yards and the two touchdowns, Terrell Owens caught six passes for 103 yards and a TD, and Hearst averaged 8.8 yards on his 12 carries.
The Colts' woes began when Manning missed Trevor Insley with a pass, and Zack Bronson ran an interception back 48 yards for a touchdown. It was the fifth time this season Manning had an interception returned for a TD.
Dolphins 34, Bills 27
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Jay Fiedler threw three touchdown passes, including a 32-yarder to Chris Chambers with 48 seconds remaining, to lead Miami.
The Dolphins overcame a 27-17 deficit in the final eight minutes, helped in part when Patrick Surtain recovered Nate Clements' fumble on a kickoff return, setting up the winning score.
It was Fiedler's fourth fourth-quarter comeback of the season and sixth of his career. And it came at a critical juncture for the Dolphins (7-3), still smarting after last weekend's 24-0 home loss to the New York Jets in which Fiedler threw three interceptions.
Fiedler bounced back, going 18-for-31 for 262 yards and no interceptions. He was especially poised when it mattered most. On the game-winning drive, he waited patiently in the pocket and lofted a perfect touch pass to Chambers, who was covered by Buffalo's Ken Irvin along the left sideline.
Chambers caught the ball at the 1 and fell backward into the end zone. Chambers, who finished with 101 yards receiving, also had a 22-yard touchdown catch.
The Bills (1-9) have lost five straight overall and eight in a row at home, matching their longest home losing streak since 1983-84.
Patriots 34, Saints 17
FOXBORO, Mass. -- Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes in New England's first game since coach Bill Belichick made him the starter for the rest of the season.
Antowain Smith ran 111 yards on 24 carries for New England, the third time in four games he's gained at least 100. He also scored on a screen play.
The Patriots (6-5) are 6-3 under Brady since Drew Bledsoe suffered chest bleeding after a hit by Mo Lewis of the New York Jets. Bledsoe has been healthy enough to play the last two games.
Brady completed 19 of 27 passes for 258 yards. His scoring pass plays covered 41 yards to Smith, 8 to Troy Brown, 22 to Charles Johnson, and 2 to Marc Edwards. New England led 20-0 at halftime before the Saints had their usual strong third quarter, cutting that to 20-10.
Cardinals 20, Chargers 17
SAN DIEGO -- Rookie Bill Gramatica's 42-yard field goal with 1 second left allowed Arizona to overcome Doug Flutie's two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.
Gramatica is Tampa Bay kicker Martin Gramatica's younger brother.
San Diego's kicker, fourth-year veteran Wade Richey, made just one of three short attempts in the first half and was booed the remainder of the game -- even when he lined up for the extra point kicks in the fourth quarter.
Arizona (4-6) won consecutive games for the first time this year.
San Diego (5-6) lost its fourth straight game and for the sixth time in eight games since its 3-0 start.
Flutie, who threw just one TD and six interceptions in the previous three games, did his best in the second half. With the Chargers trailing 10-3, he was 11-for-11 on a tying, 99-yard drive capped by a 6-yard scoring pass to Curtis Conway with less than a minute gone in the fourth quarter.
Flutie finished 33-of-44 for 308 yards with no interceptions.
Arizona's Jake Plummer was 19-of-31 for 241 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Falcons 10, Panthers 7
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Atlanta stopped Carolina 6 inches from the goal line early in the game, then held the Panthers an inch short on a key fourth-down stop with under 2:00 to play.
The Panthers (1-10) have lost 10 straight games.
In a game of little offense, Atlanta (6-4) got just enough from fullback Bob Christian, a 39-yard field goal from Jay Feely, and more than enough defense to improve to 4-1 on the road. The Falcons beat the Panthers for the fourth straight time.
Christian, whose previous career best was 102 total yards in last week's win over Green Bay, combined for 122 against Carolina. He ran for 78 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, and caught five catches for 44 yards.
Chris Mohr's 24-yard punt gave Carolina the ball at the Atlanta 31, and the Panthers moved to the 1 on four straight runs by Richard Huntley and Chris Weinke's 12-yard pass to Donald Hayes.
But Carolina couldn't go the last yard. Weinke threw an incomplete pass and three straight rushing attempts came up short. Keith Brooking stopped Huntley on a left-side sweep on fourth down about 6 inches from the goal line.
Atlanta then marched 99 yards, with Christian scoring from 4 yards out for a 10-0 lead.
Browns 18, Bengals 0
CLEVELAND -- Phil Dawson kicked four field goals and Cleveland got its first shutout since returning to the league.
The Browns (6-4) forced seven turnovers, five on interceptions, and got just enough offense to handle the Bengals (4-6).
Corey Dillon came in averaging 144 yards in five games against Cleveland, but was shut down Sunday. Cleveland, despite missing suspended tackle Gerard Warren, held him to 63 yards on 20 carries and forced quarterback Jon Kitna to try to beat them.
Kitna, though, was awful. And his backup, Scott Mitchell, wasn't much better as the Browns got their first shutout since Sept. 18, 1994, when they blanked Arizona 32-0.
Cleveland came in leading the NFL with 20 interceptions and added to that total by picking off Kitna twice and Mitchell three times. Akili Smith, Cincinnati's No. 3 QB, played the final 1:13.
Kevin Johnson caught a 6-yard TD pass in the first half and Dawson kicked field goals of 23, 27, 22 and 33 yards.
Johnson had six receptions for 113 yards. Couch went 16-of-27 for 189 yards with two interceptions.
Chiefs 19, Seahawks 7
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Trent Green, who came in with the most interceptions (16) and lowest quarterback rating (62.6) in the league, was 16-of-26 for 256 yards and did not get picked off.
Seattle (5-5), which had won two in a row, lost in Kansas City for the 10th time in 12 games. The Chiefs (3-7) won for just the first time in five outings in noisy Arrowhead Stadium, where they once felt nearly invincible.
Priest Holmes gained 120 yards on 26 carries. He was just the second back over 100 yards against a Seattle defense that had been revamped especially to stop the run.
Holmes also caught three passes for 70 yards, including a 55-yarder that led to Mike Cloud's 15-yard run for the game's last score.
Seattle's Shaun Alexander, ranked fourth in the NFL with 851 yards rushing, managed only 43 yards on 13 carries. He scored the Seahawks' only touchdown on a 28-yard pass from Matt Hasselbeck..
Peninsula Clarion ©2015. All Rights Reserved.