Patchwork Raiders Come Unglued in the End
If that was an improbable dream--contention this very year--dancing across Raider brainpans, by late afternoon, when they’d lost two cornerbacks and their only tackle who hasn’t been on waivers, it wasn’t looking any more likely.
Score one for probability.
The last thing they lost Sunday was the late 35-31 lead they’d taken. The young quarterback, Cody Carlson, marched the Houston Oilers 79 yards through that children’s crusade the Raiders had left for a secondary, delivering them to paydirt with 31 seconds left, and a Raider game that had been oh-so-winnable was lost, 38-35.
But wait . . . do you sense something stirring?
The Raiders do.
Their defense has nine sacks and is attacking again. Howie Long (2 sacks giving him 3 this season, an interception he returned 73 yards and a forced fumble at the Houston 5) looks awesome again in a way not seen since his young Madman-Unleashed days. The offense is putting points on the board, with Jay Schroeder’s debut expected soon--say next week against the Rams?
Even their toughest, highest-standards, nothing-is-ever-quite-good-enough judge was impressed.
“We’re better than I thought we were,” Matt Millen said.
“We’re a better football team than we give ourselves credit for and other people give us credit for.
“I think we went out there defensively at the start of the game thinking, ‘Man, they’re a veteran team, they’ve got good players.’ All of a sudden, at the start of the third quarter, we said, ‘Hey, we can control this team!’ We started to take over.
“We lost some people. I hate to offer that as an excuse, but we still got ‘em fourth and 10. We got ‘em to the point where we had to get ‘em.
“And then we let ‘em go.”
Maybe the Oilers took themselves off the hook without a lot of help?
After Carlson hit the talented Ernest Givins in front of the recently converted tailback, Zeph Lee, to pick up that fourth and 10, everything else just fell into place: a 16-yard pass to Willie Drewery, a 7-yarder to Givins, a draw to Allen Pinkett for 5, an option (?) to Pinkett for the last 6, and it was see ya later, Blue.
Even for the madcap Oilers, it had been a busy week. They needed someone to replace the injured Warren Moon, though Coach Jerry Glanville said it might not be Carlson (it was). Mike Rozier was hurt, too, though Glanville suggested he’d play (he didn’t).
Glanville’s sponsor, General Manager Ladd Herzeg, involved in a paternity suit, tried to resign his position to save the Oilers any embarrassment. After last year’s prank--Herzeg was accused of pointing his backside at a wedding reception at the team’s hotel in Buffalo--it isn’t clear what it would take to embarrass the Oilers.
All that and they rallied Sunday. You think this team isn’t deep?
Carlson went 21 for 34.
Pinkett and rookie Lorenzo White gained 106 yards in 24 carries.
In all, the Oilers outgained the Raiders, 406-158. And they needed every yard of it, because the Raiders were making enough big plays to control the day.
The Raiders took a 7-0 lead on an opening 80-yard drive, with rookie Cris Dishman accounting for 52 of it, on two penalties trying to hang onto Willie Gault.
They took a 14-7 lead when Steve Beuerlein hit Gault--behind Dishman, what are you gonna do?--with a 42-yard scoring pass.
They took a 21-7 lead on a 5-yard drive--Beuerlein hitting Tim Brown in the end zone--after Long knocked the ball out of Carlson’s hand.
They took a 28-14 lead after Long returned his interception to the Houston 19, Beuerlein beating a safety blitz with a six-point floater to Steve Smith.
The Oilers kept coming back. It was 28-24 after Beuerlein was stripped at the Raider 1 early in the third period, and the Raiders threw the Oilers back, and Tony Zendejas knocked home a chip-shot field goal.
It was still 28-24 in the fourth quarter, neither team having put together a drive longer than 22 yards since halftime . . . when the Oilers found Dennis Price.
The rookie cornerback from UCLA was playing because the rookie starter, Terry McDaniel, had broken a leg, and last year’s starter, Lionel Washington, had re-pulled his groin. On a third and two, Carlson threw a short hitch to his man, Curtis Duncan. Price missed the tackle and Duncan turned an 8-yard pass into a 34-yard gain to the Raider 16.
Two plays later, Carlson hit Price’s man, Givins, with a 12-yard touchdown pass. Oilers, 31-28.
“I kinda expected they would come after me,” said a non-plussed Price. “Besides the touchdown pass and the pass that set up the TD, I thought I played OK. OK wasn’t good enough, though.”
The Raiders, going nowhere all half, then went 54 yards to score, if in the new, unorthodox way. Beuerlein threw a 19-yard pass to Gault. Gault then drew another pass interference on another defensive back.
This time it was Patrick Allen; this time it was also in the end zone.
That put the ball at the Houston 1. On the next play, Marcus Allen dove in. Raiders 35-31, 2:59 left.
So Carlson just marched the Oilers the other way.
At the Raider 46, he faced that fourth and 10, but he threw that sideline pass to Givins, in front of Lee, and the Raiders were about to be gaffed.
“We had a safety blitz going,” Lee said. “I knew it would be a ‘hot’ pass to him. He ran a quick out.
“I was lined up where I wanted to be. I didn’t want to give the blitz away and come up too close. I didn’t want to let him get inside and run across my face. That type of route is hard to cover if the quarterback gets the football off without pressure. That’s what the blitz is designed to do.”
Blitzing was Eddie Anderson, the starting free safety in the absence of the injured Vann McElroy.
Back guarding against the blitz was Alonzo Highsmith, 240 pounds of highly-paid, very willing quarterback protection.
Highsmith knocked Anderson off. Carlson threw, Givins caught.
“Highsmith picked it up,” Anderson said. “We ran it three times in a row. I think Givins told him to watch out for me.”
Score one for the reigning powers. The Raiders loaded up their wounded and pointed their ambulance-plane home, to see if they can figure out a way to those better days.
Wherever they may be.
Injury report: Terry McDaniel has a broken fibula, the small bone in the lower leg, and will in a cast 4-6 weeks. Don Mosebar has a yet-undiagnosed ankle injury (X-rays were negative, but he left in crutches). Vann McElroy has already been lost for at least three more weeks with a calf injury. . . . Howie Long, told he’d shown better form on his long run that did Jim Burt last Monday: “Thank God.” . . . More Long: “The thing that was disheartening to me, I didn’t make any big plays in the last drive. I snuffed a draw play bit that was it. They were leaving (Alonzo) Highsmith in and he was just shellacking me. I’d come off the guard and he’d just freaking shellack me. He’s a big little back.” . . . Willie Gault’s day: 61 yards on 2 receptions, plus 80 yards on the 3 penalties the Oilers got trying to play him. . . . Jerry Robinson, on the option to Allen Pinkett for the game-winning score: “Maybe I should have stayed up higher when I hit him. It wasn’t the option that slowed me down. What slowed me down was that Bruce Davis blocked down and I had to go around. That was like going around a mountain.” . . . The Raiders used to list Davis at a trim 290 pounds. Davis reportedly reported to the Oiler camp this season at 338.
Latest adventures trying to establish an offensive line: Raiders decided to keep Brian Holloway on the bench and Bruce Wilkerson at right guard and started journeyman Rory Graves at right tackle. When Graves struggled, they put newly-re-signed Steve Wright at right tackle. Then they had to bring Graves in at left tackle when Mosebar went down.