- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 1, 2002

Eleven months ago, host Oakland beat the New York Jets 38-24 in the highest-scoring playoff game of last season. Bill Callahan replaced Jon Gruden as the Raiders' coach this year, but their offense remains high-powered and their defense mediocre. The same is true of the Jets.
The biggest change in tomorrow night's rematch is that Oakland doesn't have such a huge advantage at quarterback with Rich Gannon, the AFC's top passer last year and this year.
Since he took over for Vinny Testaverde in Week 5, Chad Pennington has led the Jets to a 5-2 record, including four straight victories. Pennington's 99.1 passer rating is second in the conference to Gannon's 99.8. Pretty impressive for a youngster who spent most of his first two years standing on the sideline.
"It was the right move at the right time," said Testaverde, 39. "You come in as a first-round pick [in 2000], but that doesn't go a long way to the guys in this locker room. You've got to prove your worth, and Chad has certainly done that."
The Jets (6-5) won't be intimidated by the usual madness at Network Associates Coliseum. In the 2001 finale, with their playoff hopes on the line and Oakland trying to nail down a bye, the Jets won 24-22. That victory was just one of 10 in New York's 14 road games under second-year coach Herman Edwards.
The 7-4 Raiders, who are tied for the AFC West lead with Denver and San Diego (who meet today at Qualcomm Stadium), may have erased some fears about being too old by winning their last three games after a four-game slide, but they haven't laid to rest their December woes. Oakland was 40-28 under Gruden but just 7-10 in December.
"We've addressed it in practice," Callahan said of the fatigue factor on a team with 10 of 22 starters in their 30s. "We've made some significant changes to [prevent] a collapse in the later part of the year."

Broncos-Chargers Before Denver coach Mike Shanahan could address his team after last Sunday night's stunning 23-20 overtime loss to visiting Indianapolis, Pro Bowl receiver Rod Smith articulately and profanely gave his teammates a five-minute tongue lashing for their lack of a killer instinct. Shanahan was so awed that he delayed his talk until Monday.
"It will hurt so bad to look back at the end of the year and say we had possibly the best team in the NFL and we didn't make the playoffs and we didn't win the Super Bowl," Smith explained. "We need to correct these problems now."
Last week's defeat in which Denver led 20-17 in the final seconds of regulation was its third straight at Invesco Field, not a good omen for a team that was 52-5 at Mile High Stadium during its six Super Bowl seasons.
Meanwhile, the Chargers have lost of three of their last four, including a 30-3 embarrassment last Sunday in Miami. A run defense that came in ranked third is now 11th. San Diego allowed 400 yards overall, something it didn't do while going 5-11 last year.
"It's a situation we can recover from," Pro Bowl end Marcellus Wiley said bravely.
The Broncos pounded the Chargers 26-9 in Denver eight weeks ago while holding San Diego standout LaDainian Tomlinson to a season-low 48 yards rushing.

Buccaneers-Saints
New Orleans quarterback Aaron Brooks passed for a season-high 318 yards last week, but he was booed in the Superdome after throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble in a 24-15 defeat by Cleveland.
The Saints had scored on 33 of 34 red-zone trips until the Browns stopped them in three of six such situations. The loss dropped the Saints to 7-4 and into third place in the NFC South heading into today's rematch against division leader Tampa Bay (9-2), which they upset 26-20 in their road opener.
During the Saints' 6-1 start, Brooks had a 16 to 7 touchdown/interception ratio. In the last four games (three losses), Brooks had five touchdowns and six interceptions. His passer rating was 91.2 in the first seven games and 72.8 in the last four. Last week's absence of NFC rushing leader Deuce McAllister with a sprained ankle didn't help Brooks, and McAllister's availability today will be a game-time decision.
"I just want to make natural moves," McAllister said. "I don't want to have to take two or three steps to make one cut. When I see something, I want to be able to cut it and make a move and get out of there at that moment."
The Bucs, who have won four in a row, are expecting to see McAllister.
"The man ran 31 times for 109 yards on us," All-Pro defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "We've got our work cut out for us. He's staring at 1,000 yards and wants to get it going because when he's rolling, they play well. We've got to neutralize him."
Tampa Bay's top-ranked defense has neutralized opposing offenses so well that it has scored five touchdowns while allowing just 11.


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