Sunday, December 26, 2004

Christmas isn't our day

As the Kansas City Chiefs moved into position for the game-winning field goal, Lawrence Tynes was wishing he'd washed his car.

That's always been the game-day good luck charm for Kansas City's rookie kicker. But he went ahead and drilled a 38-yarder with 22 seconds left, lifting the Chiefs to a 31-30 victory Saturday over the Oakland Raiders.

``It was too cold this morning (to wash the car),'' Tynes said after booting his first game-winning field goal in the NFL. ``I was thinking I should have washed it.''

No matter how filthy Tynes' transportation might be, he probably would never have gotten on the field if not for Dante Hall's 49-yard kickoff return after Sebastian Janikowski's third field goal, a 46-yarder, put the Raiders on top 30-28 with 1:03 to play.

Hall waited as the expected squib kick bounced perfectly into his arms and then set sail behind some excellent blocks.

``Most teams in situations like that tend to squib kick them,'' said Hall. ``It was just a matter of catching it, finding the right bounce.''

It was the fourth win in a row for the Chiefs (7-8), whose Super Bowl hopes were dashed by a 1-3 start and a four-game losing streak in November.

Janikowski scored the last nine points for Oakland (5-10) on three field goals, including a 45-yarder that made it 28-27 with 3:49 left.

``This is very frustrating,'' said Oakland running back Amos Zereoue. ``You can't ask for much more than we gave out there.''

Hall was not stopped until Janikowski got him on the Raiders 36. Then Trent Green, whose fumble had led to Janikowski's go-ahead field goal, hit passes to Chris Horn and Tony Gonzalez and Tynes trotted onto the field.

``Anybody who says they're not nervous in a situation like that is lying,'' said Tynes.

``My mom's been sick and she was here for the first time. It's pretty special. It's pretty cool.''

Holding for Tynes, who missed from 50 yards and had another attempt blocked, was punter Nick Murphy, who was signed at midweek.

``We knew it was going to come down to stopping them on defense one more time,'' said Oakland defensive tackle Warren Sapp. ``We just couldn't get the little fella (Hall) down. He made an excellent return.''

For much of the game, two of the worst defenses in the NFL seemed bent on proving statistics don't always lie.

But it looked like the last crucial mistake belonged to the Kansas City offense when Ted Washington recovered Green's fumble on the Oakland 43 with 1:42 to play and Janikowski converted a field goal. He also had a 40-yarder that put the Raiders on top 24-21 in the final seconds of the third quarter.

Green hit 32 of 45 passes for 358 yards and two touchdowns to tight Tony Gonzalez. Oakland's Kerry Collins was 18-for-37 for 217 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

``Thanks to the special teams for saving me today,'' said Green.

After their first two possessions ended in a turnover and a blocked field goal, the Chiefs reeled off three straight scores, powered by the Green-to-Gonzalez passing combo that produced two TDs and 112 yards receiving in the first half alone. Gonzalez finished with 11 catches for 124 yards.

His first TD catch covered 2 yards. A few minutes later, Gonzalez beat linebacker Tim Johnson on a 26-yard crossing pattern in the end zone. His 54th career TD gave the Chiefs a 21-14 lead and tied him with Wesley Walls for third all-time at tight end.

``It was a good day. But I've got to give credit where credit is due and that's Trent Green,'' said Gonzalez. ``He was putting the ball right on the money and the offensive line was giving us enough time.''

Collins, who passed for 371 yards and five touchdowns in a 40-35 victory over Tennessee the previous week, made it 7-0 on the Raiders' third play with a 5-yard toss to Jerry Porter. The TD was set up by Tyler Brayton's interception and 24-yard return of Green's first pass.

The Chiefs tied it on a 6-yard run by Larry Johnson and then Ray Crockett, with just the second touchdown rushing in three games for the pass-happy Raiders, scored on a 3-yard run for a 14-7 lead.

Alvis Whitted beat Benny Sapp, Warren's first cousin, on a 32-yard touchdown pass that tied it 21-all at the half.

Johnson's 4-yard touchdown run gave the Chiefs a 28-24 lead midway through the fourth quarter. ^Notes: Murphy unloaded a 58-yarder for Kansas City's season-best punt. ... Green's seventh 300-yard passing game tied the Chiefs' season record. ... Collins connected with at least eight receivers for the 10th straight week.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Getting by the Titans

When you're not headed to the playoffs, madly celebrating a big win late in the season becomes perfectly acceptable -- and completely necessary.

Oakland defensive end Bobby Hamilton hollered through the locker room in delight, coach Norv Turner congratulated his offensive linemen for a great game, and even injured Charles Woodson made locker-room rounds to high-five teammates.

The Raiders and Titans sure made it seem these fallen franchises were playing for something meaningful in late December.

Kerry Collins threw for season-high 371 yards and matched his career high with five touchdown passes, hitting Jerry Porter for three scores and outdueling Billy Volek in Oakland's 40-35 victory Sunday that sent Tennessee to its fourth straight loss.

``This team, we feed off each other,'' said Raiders defensive lineman Grant Irons, who helped force a safety with 8 seconds left. ``The emotion, enthusiasm, we just want to approach each and every game with that.''

Volek had the second-best passing day in franchise history with 492 yards and threw for four touchdowns, but the Titans' defense gave up big plays all afternoon. Volek also scored on a 1-yard run with 1:21 left, but later was called for intentional grounding in the end zone for the safety.

``We're moving the ball down the field,'' Volek said. ``The wide receivers are doing a great job. The offensive line was doing a great job. We just didn't score enough points.''

Drew Bennett established a career high with 13 receptions, for 160 yards, tying the Titans' franchise record for catches while playing in front of dozens of family and friends. He caught two touchdown passes in the first half, reaching 10 TDs for the first time in his career to become the franchise's first to do it since the Houston Oilers' Drew Hill in 1988.

``Statistics are only good when you get the win,'' Bennett said.

Volek hit Derrick Mason for a 3-yard score with 11:53 left that pulled Tennessee (4-10) within 35-28.

The Titans later faked a field goal from the Oakland 19, but Craig Hentrich's pass to Shad Meier was incomplete at the goal line. Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 42-yard field goal on Oakland's next possession, set up by Alvis Whitted's career-best 57-yard catch.

``You can't say enough about our effort offensively,'' Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. ``I told the guys inside, 'I'll take this one.' It's the head coach's fault. You can't take points off the board like I did in the decision to go with the fake field goal. It's a great call if you execute it, but not a good decision.''

Collins had five touchdown passes for the first time since his New York Giants beat Minnesota in the NFC championship game on Jan. 14, 2001. The last time a Raiders quarterback passed for five was Rich Gannon against Carolina on Dec. 24, 2000.

Porter caught scoring passes of 32, 18 and 3 yards, his second three-TD game of the season, and had eight catches for 148 yards as the Raiders (5-9) bounced back from last Sunday's 35-10 pounding in Atlanta to win at home for the first time since beating Tampa Bay in Week 3.

``Last week was pretty bad,'' Collins said. ``We were pretty awful. The guys really came to play today.''

In the first meeting here between these teams since the Raiders won the 2002 AFC championship game to reach their first Super Bowl since 1984, Collins picked apart Tennessee's poor pass defense. He completed three long touchdown passes in the first half in his most impressive game since taking over for the injured Gannon in Week 4.

Collins hit Teyo Johnson for an 18-yard score to get things started, and Doug Gabriel caught a 45-yarder in the third quarter.

Bennett, who grew up in nearby Orinda, scored on passes of 17 and 23 yards. Volek had another big day after throwing for 426 yards in a 49-38 loss to Kansas City at home Monday night.

Volek made his third straight start and sixth overall in place of injured Steve McNair and looked sharp. Oakland's depleted secondary took a beating.

Woodson, the Raiders' four-time Pro Bowl cornerback, sat out with a bone contusion on his right knee. Phillip Buchanon bruised his tailbone in the second quarter on a nullified interception. Bennett scored his second touchdown four plays later.

Collins played great, and it shows. He threw for 5 tds and 1 interception. He averaged 10 yards per throw which helped us make something out of the game. Although we can't make it to the playoffs, lets try and show our stuff against the Chiefs and the Jaguars in these last 2 games.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Odds win again

Jim Mora headed off the field with his 9-year-old son, holding aloft the game ball in tribute to those fans who stuck around to the end.

Mora is a rookie coach in Atlanta, but he knew this was a special moment.

The Falcons don't win championships very often.

T.J. Duckett set a team record by rushing for four touchdowns and Atlanta clinched just the third division title in franchise history, wrapping up the NFC South with a 35-10 rout of the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

``I haven't been here very long, so it's hard to grasp what it means to the fans,'' Mora said. ``But I could see the looks on their faces. I could see they appreciated it.''

Atlanta, which last won a division title in 1998 on the way to its only Super Bowl, flopped badly with a chance to clinch last week. The Falcons (10-3) were blown out 27-0 at Tampa Bay.

But they had their way against the hapless Raiders, taking control with a 21-point second quarter.

The Falcons built a 35-3 lead before Oakland scored a late touchdown, so most of the sellout crowd at the Georgia Dome didn't hang around to celebrate.

Afterward, many players donned black caps that said, ``Division Champions. 2004 NFC South.'' Only two of them -- linebacker Keith Brooking and defensive lineman Travis Hall -- are holdovers from the last championship season.

``I didn't think it would take this long to win again,'' said Brooking, who was a rookie in 1998. ``It really puts things in perspective for me.''

Appropriately, Hall had a hand in the game's biggest play, deflecting a pass by Oakland's Kerry Collins. The ball went right to former Raiders defensive tackle Rod Coleman, who returned the interception 39 yards for a touchdown that gave the Falcons a 21-3 halftime lead.

The Falcons' less-than-stellar history is apparent from the banners hanging from the Georgia Dome roof. There are only three, marking division titles in 1980 and '98, along with the NFC championship in that latter season.

Now, it's time to put up a fourth.

Oakland (4-9) won't be raising any banners this season. The Raiders had three turnovers and didn't reach end zone until Zack Crockett's meaningless TD with just under 3 1/2 minutes remaining.

``You turn the ball over like we did and you just really make it hard on yourself,'' coach Norv Turner said.

After going 5-11 a year ago, Atlanta has reached double-figure wins for only the fourth time in its 39-year history. The Falcons were closing in on the NFC's No. 2 seed, which would ensure a first-round bye and guarantee at least one home game in the playoffs.

``This is nice,'' Mora said, ``but there are other things we want to do.''

The Raiders fumbled on their first offensive play, though they did score first on Sebastian Janikowski's 52-yard field goal.

Allen Rossum's 50-yard punt return got the Falcons rolling in the second quarter. Two plays later, Duckett got loose up the middle, ran through Raiders safety Stuart Schweigert and cruised 28 yards for the longest touchdown of his three-year career.

Duckett didn't have to work as hard for his other TDs. Each time, the 254-yard back trotted on the field when the Falcons got close to the end zone, powering in from the 2, 4 and 1.

He broke the Atlanta scoring record shared by 13 players, most recently Tim Dwight in the final game of the 1999 season.

``You want to attack the defense before they attack you,'' Duckett said.

While he's used to scoring, the other Atlanta TD came from a most unlikely player. Coleman had the first score of his career on the interception return, burying his former team.

``I was just trying to get to the end zone,'' he said with a smile. ``It seemed like I ran 60 yards.''

The Falcons were true to form. The NFL's top running team surpassed 200 yards for the fourth time this season, finishing with 219. Warrick Dunn led the way with 103 on 25 carries.

Michael Vick, coming off a miserable performance in Tampa Bay, played a solid game -- 13-of-20 passing for 145 yards, along with 31 yards on two carries.

``They run the ball a lot,'' said Raiders safety Ray Buchanan, who spent the last seven years with the Falcons. ``They come out smash-mouthing, just trying to run you down.''

Pretty much every week, we come out and have had the odds against us. We have been dying offensively lately. When our passing game is not as good as usual, we play bad. Next season we need to recruit a good pair of RB's or else we will never get a win over the teams with a good pass Defense. Lets finish strong you guys!