- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 10, 2002

A month ago, the Oakland Raiders looked like the NFL's best team. They were averaging 40 points a game, and all four of their victories were by at least 13 points.
Four weeks later, the Raiders have hit bottom literally. They suddenly lost their mojo as injuries, a faltering running game and a porous defense took their toll. Oakland has lost four straight (two in overtime), averaging just 16 points in the process, to fall into the AFC West basement at 4-4 despite the league's best passing attack.
No team that has lost four straight in a season has reached the Super Bowl. To make matters worse, tomorrow night Oakland visits Denver, where it has lost the past seven years. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who was fired by Raiders owner Al Davis in 1989, is 12-2 against his old boss and never has lost to Oakland at home. And the Broncos are 6-2 and atop the AFC West with the third-ranked defense and fifth-ranked offense.
Don't look for an emotional homecoming from Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski.
"I really don't have a close friend on the team," said Romanowski, a Broncos regular the previous six years. "I have guys I went to battle with, guys that I respect, guys that I enjoyed playing with. But there's nobody there I hang out with and go out for dinner with."
Ray Lucas was a rookie in 1997 when he cost the New York Jets a playoff spot by throwing a last-minute interception in the end zone in a season-ending loss to Detroit. Miami began its postseason streak that season, but that five-year run is in jeopardy because of Lucas' poor play in relief of the injured Jay Fiedler and his own badly bruised shoulder. If Miami (5-3) loses in New York and New England beats Chicago today, they will be tied with idle Buffalo atop the AFC East with the Jets (now 3-5) just a game back. And New York would be flying high with hot, young quarterback Chad Pennington (96.6 passer rating).
Since Fiedler was injured in a 24-22 victory over Denver on Oct. 13, Lucas has thrown six interceptions two of which were returned for touchdowns and was part of two fumbled handoffs in losses to Buffalo and Green Bay. The Dolphins scored just 20 points, and their 10 turnovers were their highest two-game total since 1968. Lucas has an ugly 33.5 rating.
"It's like we had a great run and Jay put in all that work and stayed in hurt [against Denver], and we won that game and now I'm letting him down," Lucas said.
Lucas said he is determined to play even if it means sleeping at the team facility to receive around-the-clock treatment on his shoulder. If the shoulder doesn't respond, Sage Rosenfels who debuted off the bench last week will start. The Jets expect Lucas, who led them to a 6-3 finish in 1999 after replacing Rick Mirer, to be under center.
"Especially with him coming home to play [us], you're not going to keep Ray out," fullback Richie Anderson said. "Make no mistake, he will be at his best when he comes here."
Despite the quarterback woes, the Dolphins have the four-year losing streak to the Jets off their backs, having thumped them 30-3 on Sept. 22 while rushing for 211 yards, 151 by halfback Ricky Williams. That's a sweet harbinger for today; the season series has been swept 27 times in its 36 years, including the last six.
Chiefs-49ers How good is Kansas City's offense? The Chiefs lead the NFL with 32.4 points a game and are third with 382 yards a game even though starting wideouts Johnnie Morton and Eddie Kennison have combined for just 38 catches and five touchdowns. But tight end Tony Gonzalez and halfback Priest Holmes have 84 catches and eight scores between them, and Holmes leads the NFL with 857 rushing yards.
Despite all that offense, the Chiefs are only 4-4 because their defense gives up a staggering 438 yards (on pace for a record 7,008) and 30 points a game. That matador defense faces a huge test today in San Francisco against the No. 4 rushing attack and quarterback Jeff Garcia, who's coming off a huge game in a 23-20 overtime victory at Oakland that lifted the NFC West-leading 49ers to 6-2. Garcia completed 25 of 36 passes for two touchdowns to improve his passer rating to 94.2, second in the NFC to Green Bay's Brett Favre. Garcia has 10 touchdowns and just one interception in his last five games (four victories).
Former 49ers coach Bill Walsh said Garcia's performance against the Raiders was as good as any put up by San Francisco immortals Joe Montana and Steve Young.
"Jeff may have played his finest game as a 49er," coach Steve Mariucci agreed. "He has been better in big games this year than ever before. It's part of the maturation process, part of his becoming a captain, a team leader, a Pro Bowler, part of the process which makes [Garcia] considered in the same breath as some of those other quarterbacks."

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