OAKLAND RAIDERS RAP
The Raiders established a seed of promise during their 1998 season. First-year coach Jon Gruden developed a positive attitude, discipline and camaraderie. Gone was the finger-pointing of the previous three years. Gone was the sideline chaos from unsuccessful coaching regimes of Joe Bugel and Mike White. Instead, Gruden's Raiders showed resiliency and fortitude despite mounting injuries. Their 8-8 record was a four-win improvement from the abyss of 1997. Here's a capsule anaylsis:
Top 5 Highlights
Rookie cornerback Charles Woodson contributes five interceptions, including a 46-yard return for a touchdown against Arizona's Wunderkind Jake "The Snake" Plummer. The 1997 Heisman Trophy winner from Michigan was third on the Raiders with 64 tackles and had 21 passes defended. During the first half of the season, opposing offenses shied away from Woodson and tried to complete passes against right cornerback Eric Allen, a six-time selection to the Pro Bowl. After Allen was lost for the season because of a knee injury in mid-November, teams challenged Woodson more often with only a modicum of success. Allen and Woodson shared the team lead with five interceptions. "Charles has been as good of corner as I've seen all year in the AFC," Oakland coach Jon Gruden said. Woodson is a superior athlete, confident and demanding. The cornerback chided some teammates for lackluster effort following a loss to Washington on Nov. 29. "I play hard and I play to make things happen," he said. "I live for interceptions." Woodson, 22, was chosen 1998 Associated Press NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year on Jan. 4. "This is a great honor for Charles," Gruden said. "We look forward to him having a great career with the Raiders." Woodson said: "I give myself a B-minus. I played pretty good, but I didn't do a lot of the little things I could have done, as far as watching more film, doing a lot more studying. I pretty much played off of athletic ability."
An ESPN-TV audience watches the Raiders dismantle the Seahawks 31-18 in the Kingdome on Nov 1. Backup quarterback Donald Hollas throws touchdown passes to Tim Brown and Rickey Dudley while Oakland forces five turnovers, including a 74-yard interception return for a touchcown by safety Albert Lewis.
Third-string quarterback Wade Wilson rallies the Raiders to a 7-6 victory over San Diego at Network Associates Coliseum on Oct. 11. Oakland seems destined for a third-stright home loss to San Diego until Wilson's dramatic 65-yard touchdown pass to James Jett with 1:28 remaining. Wilson, who replaced a struggling Donald Hollas early in the fourth quarter, throws incomplete on his first six attempts before connecting for the game-winner.
Greg Davis kicks a 38-yard field goal with 21 seconds remaining as the Raiders edge Seattle 20-17 at Network Assoicates Coliseum on Nov. 15. Desmond Howard scores on a 63-yard punt return, his first return for a touchdown since coming to Oakland in 1997. The Raiders improve to 7-3, their best start since going 8-2 in 1995.
Oakland suffers its annual two-game flogging by rival Kansas City. The hated Chiefs overcome a two-touchdown deficit for a 31-24 victory at Oakland on Dec. 26. The loss prevents the Raiders from achieving their first winning season since 1994. Kansas City is 17-2 against Da Silver and Bleak this decade.
Denver scores 23 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to beat Oakland 40-14 at Mile High Stadium on Nov. 22. The Raiders narrow the deficit to 17-14 in the third quarter before the Broncos turn three three interceptions by Donald Hollas into touchdowns over the final 11:50. It's the first of four straight losses for Oakland.
Miami forces seven turnovers en route to a 27-17 thrashing of Oakland before a crowd of 61,254 at Network Associates Colsieum on Dec. 6. Donald Hollas throws six interceptions, one short of tying Ken Stabler's club record set in 1977.
Baltimore defeats the Raiders, 13-10, at Camden Yards on Nov. 8. The loss ends Oakland's five-game winning streak. Starting quarterback Jeff George has a brief return to the lineup before aggravating a groin injury on the Raiders' first possession. He had missed all or parts of the previous four games. The Ravens are 2-0 against the Raiders in their three-year history. They're 14-26-1 against the rest of the league.
Did You Know?
The Raiders are an NFL worst 8-24 in the second half of the season for the past four years. They are winless in their past five regular-season finales.
The Raiders led the NFL in turnover margin with a plus eight after their win at Seattle on Nov. 1. They finished tied for 25th with a minus 8. Oakland was 7-0 when it committed fewer turnovers than the opposition.
Greg Davis made a league-low 63.0 percent (17 of 27) on field goal attempts. He missed all four tries of 35 yards or closer. An Oakland placekicker has ranked last in NFL field goal accuracy for the past two seasons. Cole Ford held the dubious honor in 1997, when he converted 13 of 22 attempts for an abysmal 59.0 percent. Maybe George Blanda could be coaxed out of retirement.
The Raiders lost all or part of 59 player games from nine starters during the season.
The Raiders have surrendered 125 sacks the past two years. They led the NFL with 67 sacks allowed this season. Center Barret Robbins, guard Steve Wisniewski and tackle Mo Collins are solid on the left side, but the right side is inconsistent with guards Derrick Graham or Darryl Ashmore and tackle Lincoln Kennedy. NFL greats Walter Payton or Joe Montana couldn't have a Pro Bowl season behind Oakland's offensive line.
Jeff George remains an enigma after nine seasons and three teams in the NFL. He came to the Raiders proclaimed as a savior and left unwanted. He has a 37-70 record as a starter, including 7-15 with Oakland. The Raiders replaced George in February 1999 with Rich Gannon, predominantly a backup during his first 11 NFL seasons. In 1997, George had Pro Bowl caliber statistics (29 touchdown passes, 3,917 yards passing with only nine interceptions), but the Raiders floundered with a 4-12 record. This past season, he struggled to grasp the offense implemented by new Oakland coach Jon Gruden before being sidelined because of a torn groin in Week 5. According to published reports, there was a consensus among Gruden and team owner Al Davis not to re-sign George. Let the body (quarterback) rest in peace. Another bad free-agent hire by Dirty Al. Cornerback Larry Brown passed the mantle to returner/receiver Desmond Howard, who handed off to the beleaguered George. As quarterback busts go, George shares a dubious place in Silver and Bleak history with Jay Schroeder and Todd "Weed" Marinovich.
The Raiders should release Greg Davis and bring in a new placekicker. Davis struggled in the second half of the season after winning three games with kicks against the New York Giants, San Diego and Seattle. He also was a bust on kickoffs.
The Raiders are a work in progress. Oakland made positive strides on defense this season, but there's still inconsistency throughout the team. Offensive line, quarterback, running back, linebacker and special teams need upgrading for the Raiders to rise above mediocrity.