October 19, 1997
|QB Jeff George only needed to attempt 12 passes in the victory over the Broncos.|
The skies were overcast as nearly 60,000 fans streamed into the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on the mid-October afternoon. The season was as gray as the weather for the Oakland Raiders, who had a 2-4 record going into the October 19, 1997 game against the undefeated Denver Broncos.
The teams were reasonably healthy, having both come off their bye week.
"The time helped me," said Raiders QB Jeff George, the AFC's top-rated passer. "I didn't throw any balls at all while we were off. My arm was a little sore, so the bye week couldn't have come at a better time for me."
As it turned out, passing would be a secondary weapon in the Raiders offensive arsenal that Sunday. Right from the go, the ground-game attack would be the key to success against the Broncos in the 74th league battle between the two AFL originals. The Raiders dominated the series with a 48-23-2 record since the rivalry began in 1960. But Denver had won the last four games against the Silver and Black, although three were decided by only five points or less.
With four first-year Raiders in the starting lineup - rookie defensive lineman Darrell Russell, S Eric Turner, G Lester Holmes and George - and three players in their first season as full-time starters - LB Mike Morton, S James Trapp and RB Napoleon Kaufman - this was certainly not the same team Denver had downed in '95 and '96.
The Raiders opened the action in high gear as another newcomer - Super Bowl XXXI MVP Desmond Howard returned the kickoff to the Oakland 29-yard line On the very first play from scrimmage, Kaufman took a delayed hand-off from George, followed G Steve Wisniewski and FB Derrick Fenner up the middle, burst free, broke to the right sideline, and went 57 yards before being pushed out of bounds. Then, on third-and-10 from the Denver 14, George dropped straight back and hit WR James Jett for the game's first score.
“It was a post pattern," recalled Jett. "The defender had pretty good coverage, but Jeff made a perfect throw and I had the right angle to make the catch."
Cole Ford added the point-after and the Raiders led 7-0. A sack of John Elway by Chester McGlockton short-circuited one Denver possession, but the Broncos drove 71 yards on eight plays to even the score, 7-7, late in the first quarter.
Oakland began the second quarter as they had the first, driving 78 yards for a score. George passed for 45 of those yards, completing the march by drilling TE Rickey Dudley for five yards and a touchdown to put the hometown Raiders ahead.
After his touchdown toss, George jumped into the end zone stands, joining the jubilant fans. "It's nice to have fans like that," the Raiders quarterback commented. "In my eight-year career, I've never had fans like that. I ran over and let them know I appreciated them. You see guys painted up, you just want to be with them."
S Eric Turner celebrates a play with the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum crowd.
In the final moments of the half, Elway led his team downfield in a war against the clock - and the Raiders. The defense stiffened, and Denver was forced to settle for a field goal to leave Oakland ahead at half-time, 14-10. In the opening thirty minutes, the battle between running backs Kaufman and Terrell Davis of the Broncos had Kaufman ahead in rushing yards, 117 to 42. George had thrown only nine passes, but two had been for touchdowns.
The Broncos came out firing in the third quarter and drove 80 yards to go ahead 17-14, with the score coming on a three-yard sweep by Davis.
Denver took over again with 6:11 left to play in the third quarter. Seven plays later, the Broncos faced a third-and-nine at the Oakland 33. Elway set to pass, was pressured, scrambled inside right with DE Lance Johnstone in close pursuit. "At first I thought I was going to sack him, but he got away," said Johnstone. "So I stuck a hand out, grabbed his arm and he coughed it up." The ball bounced off Elway's leg, and as the QB tried to recover, he was grabbed by McGlockton, who batted the ball away. At that point S Eric Turner scooped up the ball on the Oakland 35 and sped down the left sideline, roaring by the Raiders bench. With a burst of speed that displayed his Olympic gold medal form, Trapp got in front of Turner and sealed off the final Denver defender as Turner completed his 65-yard burst to put the Raiders back on top, 21-17.
|CB Perry Carter covers the Broncos wide receiver.|
"That play was huge because we had them out," Elway said after the game. "We were really moving the ball. It was a killer. Everybody in the stadium was quiet, and it just woke everyone up."
A four-point lead with more than 17 minutes left to play was not enough to feel safe in an AFC Western Division game, especially against John Elway, who had engineered so many late comeback victories in his 15 seasons as the field leader of the Broncos. When the Raiders next got the ball, they fumbled, giving the Broncos possession on the Oakland 36. After an offsides penalty took it to the 31, the Silver and Black defense rose to the challenge, limiting Denver to just six yards on three plays. A missed 43-yard field goal left the Raiders in front, 21-17.
A 51-yard Denver punt pinned the Raiders on their own eight. Kaufman earned some room on a nine-yard blast off left tackle out to the Oakland 17. Then, on a third-and-long situation, Kaufman burst through the right tackle and raced 83 yards for the score, putting the Raiders up 28-17. The Raiders had two fullbacks in on the short yardage down - Fenner and rookie Chad Levitt, who both led Kaufman to the right as T Lincoln Kennedy and Holmes blew open the hole at the line of scrimmage. Kaufman was hit early, kept his balance, broke free and took off, untouched the rest of the way.
"Napoleon makes these ordinary runs look spectacular," commented Wisniewski. "It looks like up the middle and a cloud of dust, but he breaks them. It looks like two, three or four yards, and he's hitting it for 40 or 50 yards. He reminds me very much of blocking for Bo Jackson."
Kaufman's rushing total of 227 yards broke the previous Raiders record of 221 yards rushing set by Jackson on November 30, 1987 in Seattle in a 37-14 Monday night win over the Seahawks. "I've been praying about getting 200 yards," noted Kaufman, an ordained minister. "And, I tell you, the Lord is an answerer."
The Broncos, en route to the AFC Championship and a Super Bowl win over the Green Bay Packers, would not make this one easy for the Raiders. With just 2:15 left to play, Denver scored and got the two-point conversion to close the gap to only three points, 28-25.
After the ensuing kickoff, the Raiders started from their own 12-yards line, with 2:05 remaining. Two runs gained nothing, and Oakland was faced with a third-and-10 on their own 12 with 47 seconds left to play. Failure to get the first down here could give Elway the field position to start a final drive for the field goal to tie or a touchdown to win.
Denver RB Terrell Davis congratulates RB Napoleon Kaufman on his 227-yard record-breaking day.
George play-faked to Kaufman and completed a 15-yard strike down the middle to a diving Tim Brown for the game-clinching first down.
"It was obvious who I was going to," said George later. "There's no doubt in my mind. If Timmy had two or three guys on him, I was going to Timmy the whole way. That's just one of those situations, third and long, where you know where your money man is."
The Raiders defense had held AFC leading rusher Davis to 3.7 yards per carry and a total of 85 yards rushing. John Elway had been sacked three times. Leo Araguz had averaged 46.4 yards per punt for the Raiders. The two teams had combined for 765 yards of total offense, 227 of which belonged to Kaufman. George had needed to throw only 12 times.