- The Washington Times - Friday, December 28, 2001

Oakland was the first team to clinch a division title and might well be the only team to repeat a division championship. But the way the 10-4 Raiders have been playing lately, their postseason stay doesn't figure to be a lengthy one.
Over the past four weeks, Oakland has been upset by humdrum Arizona and middling Tennessee at home, squeaked by lowly Kansas City and escaped at plummeting San Diego. Why? The AFC West winners have scored fewer than 27 points just five times, but their defense, fifth against the run last year, is 23rd now.
Seattle's Shaun Alexander ripped the Raiders for 266 yards Nov. 11, and the Chiefs' Priest Holmes powered for 168 yards on Dec. 9. When Holmes took a screen pass 67 yards to the house to put the Chiefs up 17-7, Oakland fans who usually scare the visitors turned on the home team. And the Raiders didn't disagree with those sentiments.
"We need to get it going," said ninth-year linebacker Greg Biekert. "We want to be in a great position and won't get it like that."
That great position is homefield advantage in the playoffs. Pittsburgh (12-2) has clinched one of the AFC's first-round byes and New England (10-5) is just a half game back of Oakland with a bye week and hapless Carolina remaining while the Raiders have to visit archrival Denver and then play host to the New York Jets, an AFC East contender.
Of course homefield advantage didn't help in last year's AFC Championship game in which Baltimore whipped host Oakland 16-3 as the Raiders fell shy of their first Super Bowl in 17 years.
Although quarterback Rich Gannon and receivers Tim Brown and Jerry Rice are having fine years, the future is definitely now for the Silver and Black because all three are at least 35 and seven other starters are in their 30s. And the win-now mentality is magnified by persistent rumors that coach Jon Gruden, who ended Oakland's six-year playoff drought last year and is 39-25 in four seasons, won't be back after his five-year contract expires following next season. Gruden believes he can have more money and more control with a team not run by Al Davis, arguably the league's most hands-on owner.
Trivia time
Indianapolis' Dominic Rhodes has 880 rushing yards, the most ever by an undrafted rookie. Whose record did he break? (Answer below.)
Out for revenge?
Reigning MVP Marshall Faulk is blase about Sunday's game, his first against the Colts since they traded him to St. Louis before the 1999 season.
"I don't have anything to prove to them," Faulk said. "When I left there, I was feeling good. I wasn't bitter about anything. We were just going in different directions."
Coach Mike Martz joked that he hurt his back jumping out of his chair when he heard the Rams had acquired Faulk for just a second-round pick and a fifth-rounder.
"We were high-fiving for about three days," Martz said.
While the Colts replaced the multi-talented Faulk with rookie halfback Edgerrin James and made the playoffs in 1999 and 2000, the Rams won the Super Bowl in 1999, reached postseason in 2000 and are 12-2 this year. The Colts, who lost James to a season-ending knee injury in October, are 5-9, 0-9 when they score fewer than 30 points.
Too much of a good thing?
Keyshawn Johnson becoming the 23rd player to catch 100 passes in a season is not necessarily good news for Tampa Bay. Eleven of the 29 previous teams with a 100-reception man failed to reach postseason. And of the 18 teams that did, only six won a game.
With the Bucs (8-6) facing defending champion Baltimore and NFC East leader Philadelphia and then having to play on the road if they do make the playoffs, it's a near lock that Rice (with San Francisco in 1994) and Dallas' Michael Irvin (1995) will remain the only 100-catch men to win a Super Bowl ring the same season.
Taylor wants out
Talented but oft-injured halfback Fred Taylor would like nothing better than to get away from Jacksonville. As long as it's not too far away, that is.
"They can trade me anywhere as long as it's in Florida Miami or Tampa," the Belle Glade, Fla. native and University of Florida product told the Florida Times-Union.
Taylor, who has been upset about his contract and had disagreed with coach Tom Coughlin about whether he has been healthy enough to play, said the odds of him playing again this year were the same as the Jaguars paying him more, "very, very slim."
Taylor also criticized unnamed teammates for not playing "up to their contract value." This from a guy who rushed for 116 yards, a 3.9-yard average and no touchdowns in two games while missing the rest of the season with a groin injury.
Trivia answer
Fred "Crotchgrabber" Lane, with 809 for Carolina in 1997.


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