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Jets, Raiders to battle for trip to conference title game

(Sports Network) - While they're not division rivals, a pair of very familiar AFC foes will conclude the NFL Divisional round on Sunday. The AFC West champion Oakland Raiders will host the winners of the AFC East crown, the New York Jets, in a second-round matchup at Network Associates Coliseum.

The Jets became the first club in NFL history to win their division after a 2-5 start. Since the rough beginning, however, New York has won eight of its last 10 games, including a 41-0 thrashing of the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the playoffs last week at the Meadowlands. Herman Edwards' team jumped out to a shocking 24-0 halftime lead and never looked back. However, the Jets' reward is a fourth trip to Oakland in the past two seasons.

"It is unbelievable, and to think we even have to go out there and play them again next season -- it's almost laughable," Edwards commented. "When you pull up in front of that place, the people, they know all the players' names now because we have been there at the same hotel the last two years.

"And this is our fourth time we're going out there...that's amazing. I mean, the guy at the coffee place right up the street, they have my table ready when I go over there on Saturday. So it's great. It's kind of like going home."

If the Jets are to keep their hopes alive of advancing to their first Super Bowl in 33 years, however, they must win in a place where they have won just once in 41 years.

The Jets are getting a lot of credit for being the hottest team around, but no one should look past the fact that the Oakland Raiders won seven of eight games to conclude the regular season. The amazing run followed a four-game losing streak that included overtime losses to San Diego and San Francisco.

"At this point in the season, it's not what you've done; it's what you're going to do," said Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon, who was named the NFL's 2002 Most Valuable Player at the age of 37. "We have a game to win on Sunday. Nothing else matters right now, not all those streaks for either team. It's who plays the best football on Sunday. We're on a mission and that's to qualify for the Super Bowl. The next step comes Sunday against a very good football team."

SERIES HISTORY: The Raiders own a 20-13-2 edge in the all-time series, including the postseason. Oakland also has captured nine of the past 11 meetings overall.

These clubs last met back in Week 13 in Oakland. In that contest, Gannon passed for 342 yards to lead the Raiders to a 26-20 victory. WR Tim Brown became the third player in league history to catch 1,000 career passes in that affair.

The Jets and Raiders also clashed in the 2001 regular-season finale. New York kicker John Hall booted a 53-yard field goal with 59 seconds left to lift the Jets to a thrilling 24-22 triumph that enabled the club to make the playoffs. It marked New York's first trip to the playoffs since 1998, as the club made it to the NFL's postseason tournament in its first season under Edwards. Of course, the Jets' reward for making the 2001 playoffs was a return trip to Oakland the very next week.

Edwards owns a 1-2 mark versus Oakland, while first-year head coach Bill Callahan (1-0) has a perfect record against the Jets.

PLAYOFF SPOTLIGHT: Just a week after the Jets topped the Raiders in the 2001 regular-season finale, Oakland got its revenge by earning an impressive 38-24 victory over New York in the first round of the playoffs. Veteran receiver Jerry Rice caught nine passes for 183 yards and a touchdown, while RB Charlie Garner ran for 158 yards and a score in the Oakland triumph.

The Jets own the all-time lead in playoff meetings against the Raiders, 2-1. New York beat the Raiders 27-23 on December 29, 1968 in the AFL Championship, and 17-14 in an AFC second-round playoff contest on January 15, 1983.

New York, which earned its first-ever playoff shutout last week, is 7-8 all- time in the postseason. Edwards, who won his first career playoff game a week ago, has a 1-1 lifetime mark in the playoffs.

The Raiders own a 23-17 all-time playoff record. Oakland defeated the Jets in the 2001 AFC Wild Card round before losing a heartbreaker to New England, 16-13 in overtime, in the Divisional round. Callahan, who will be coaching in his first postseason game on Sunday, is seeking to become the first rookie head coach to win a Super Bowl since San Francisco's George Seifert beat Denver in Super Bowl XXIV. Overall, Oakland has won four of its past five home playoff games.

Teams that have enjoyed a first-round bye are 39-9 in the second round since the league went to its current playoff format in 1990.


The Jets took control of the Wild Card game versus Indianapolis from the opening drive. After the Colts' offense went three-and-out, the Jets struck first blood on a Chad Pennington-to-Richie Anderson swing pass that turned into a 56-yard touchdown.

"We've had that play in our playbook as long as I have been here," said All- Pro center Kevin Mawae. "Everyone just went with the run fake to the right and there was nobody outside to the left."

After a Hall field goal made it 10-0, New York tacked on a one-yard touchdown run by LaMont Jordan and a four-yard scoring pass from Pennington to Santana Moss. Before the Colts knew what hit them they were down 24-0 at halftime.

"I am so proud of the way the guys came together," Pennington said. "But I am also really proud that we are not satisfied. We know we have a tough road ahead of us if we are going to realize our ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl."

The play of the 26-year-old Pennington has been the difference between the team that started the season 1-4 and the team that has won eight of its last 10. Last week, Pennington completed 19-of-25 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns in his first career playoff start. For the season, the Marshall product has thrown 25 TDs and just six interceptions, including the playoffs. In fact, his last interception came against Oakland on December 2.

Both the Jets and Raiders have scored at least 20 points each in the past three meetings between the teams, including last year's postseason affair. That could work in New York's favor since its offense has been clicking on all cylinders lately. In the Jets' past three victories over Indianapolis, Green Bay and New England, the team has averaged 37.7 points per game, including back-to-back 40-plus point outbursts. However, Edwards knows his team will have to put some big numbers on the scoreboard come Sunday to keep up with Oakland's high-powered attack.

"We need to score more points," Edwards said. "That's our whole deal. We came in the last couple of weeks really saying, ‘Hey, we want to score points and that's the way you win.’ I mean, I think when you score more points, you can play good defense because it puts the other team in a catch-up mode, or you control the game when you're scoring points."

Pennington, who led the NFL with a 104.2 passer rating this season, is the head of the Jets' offensive monster, but he has a solid supporting cast around him.

"This team is playing better ball than any team in any conference, any team period," said RB Curtis Martin, who rested most of the second half but still ran for 67 yards on 15 carries last week.

The backfield combination of Martin, who eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark this season for the eighth time in his eight-year NFL career, and Jordan, who led the Jets with 102 yards and two touchdowns in the Wild Card game, is a potent one-two punch. Throw in FB Anderson, who is an excellent receiver, and the Raiders' defense has plenty to worry about.

Led by WR Laveranues Coles, who caught a team-high 89 passes for 1,264 yards during the regular season, Oakland is going to have to contend with a good receiving corps. Wayne Chrebet and Moss, who also excels as the Jets' punt returner, can do some damage against Chuck Bresnahan's defense if given the chance.

The Raiders' defense did get some good news this week when CB Charles Woodson (leg) returned to practice with the first-team defense for the first time since undergoing surgery on December 24 to stabilize a broken fibula in his right leg.

"Charles has looked good," Callahan said, "We're certainly hoping he'll come back healthy for [Sunday's game]."

Fellow CB Tory James provided a huge boost to the Oakland defense when he played well in the regular-season finale after being sidelined with a leg injury. James doesn't have the natural ability of Woodson, but he should be able to match up against the Jets' top receiver, Coles. If James can hold up, it will allow Bresnahan to take some chances against Pennington with blitzes. Both safeties Rod Woodson and Anthony Dorsett could be called upon to step and help against the run, so it's imperative that CBs Charles Woodson and James hold up physically.

Stopping Martin is the Raiders' No. 1 task. Back in the regular-season meeting between the two clubs, Oakland limited Martin to 26 rushing yards on 11 carries. In fact, Oakland's defense has held Martin to zero touchdowns and 50 rushing yards or less in three of five career games. The play of veteran DT Sam Adams will go a long way toward determining the success of Martin on Sunday.

"Every time he touches the ball, you've got to hit him," Adams said. "You've got to get a lot of people to the ball. He doesn't go down on the first hit."

In the past three meetings between these teams, including the postseason, the Raiders' defense has limited the Jets to just 87.3 rushing yards per contest.


The Raiders' offense has been a juggernaut this season. Callahan's unit was No. 1 in the NFL in total offense (389.8 yards per game), first in passing (279.7 ypg) and second in points scored (28.1 points per game).

Gannon, the NFL's Most Valuable Player, was the key cog that made the whole operation run smoothly. The 37-year-old signal-caller had a league record 10 300-yard passing games, threw for an NFL-high 4,689 yards and had a sparkling 26-10 TD-to-interception ratio.

"That award is an award that [Gannon], obviously, deserves," Callahan said of his quarterback winning MVP honors. "That's an outstanding tribute to Rich Gannon and also to this team."

Of the past 37 MVPs since 1966, 20 have taken their teams to the Super Bowl, and 10 of the 20 have won the respective Super Bowl.

Gannon's 97.3 passer rating was second in the league only to Pennington this season. But the heady veteran does a phenomenal job of spreading the ball around to all of his receivers. Future Hall of Fame receivers Rice and Brown combined for 173 receptions for 2,141 yards and nine touchdowns. Rice needs one more postseason touchdown to tie Emmitt Smith and Thurman Thomas for most career playoff scores (21). With 39 more total yards, Rice (2,086) will surpass Thomas (2,124) as the all-time playoff yardage leader.

"I think if we can create turnovers, that always helps you get them a little out of rhythm," Edwards said of Oakland's timing-based offense. "The Raiders are going to make some plays. They have two Hall of Fame receivers and a quarterback that is probably going to be there too. They are going to make plays and we understand that. If we have the ability to make a play, to catch a ball and get off the field, we have to do that."

Gannon completed 31-of-42 passes for 342 yards in the previous meeting with New York this season. However, getting to Gannon is only part of the equation. While Raiders TE Roland Williams (knee/toe) is expected to miss Sunday's game, rookie Doug Jolley should be able to contribute in the passing game. Jolley caught five passes for 58 yards in the Week 13 meeting with New York.

Brown, who caught 81 passes during the regular season, has reached the 75- reception level in each of the last 10 seasons. In his last three games against the Jets, Brown has 17 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown. While he's more of a possession receiver at this stage in his career, speedster Jerry Porter has added a new dimension to the Raiders' attack.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Porter, who averaged 13.5 yards per catch in 2002, led the team with nine receiving touchdowns this season. He's a primary target for Gannon in the red zone.

If it wasn't enough to worry about the plethora of receivers the Raiders can throw at you, there's the multi-purpose Garner, who caught 91 passes this season in addition to registering 1,903 all-purpose yards and 11 total touchdowns.

"I think the key is going to have to be stopping them on third downs," said Jets Pro Bowl DE John Abraham, who led the team with 10 sacks during the regular season and had three tackles and a sack against Indianapolis last week. "The Raiders moved the ball very well on us the first time we played so we are going to have to find some way, a game plan of getting off on third downs."

Of course, that could be easier said than done. The Raiders are so successful on third down because they put themselves in favorable positions after gaining positive yardage on first and second downs.

"You are not always going to win on third down against these guys because they try to keep it third and short where they can make a two- or three-yard catch and all of a sudden, they create a first down," Edwards said. "So we have to make some plays on first and second down to get off the field."

01/09 19:00:18 ET

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