Raiders, Rams Meet Their Match at the Pass : Esiason and Bengals Win in 45-21 Rout

Times Staff Writer

First the good news: Bo Jackson will be here in a week.

Now the bad news: He can't play defense.

But somebody is going to have to do so if the Raiders are to salvage this roller-coaster season that again seems headed downhill.

A week ago, they spotted the Denver Broncos 24 points by the half, then won in overtime in a remarkable comeback.

On Sunday, the Raiders allowed the Cincinnati Bengals to roar out to a 24-7 halftime lead, but this time there was no comeback. They finally lost, 45-21, before 42,594 largely disillusioned fans at the Coliseum.

Bengal quarterback Boomer Esiason, who entered the game as the American Football Conference's top-rated quarterback, did nothing to harm that ranking as he riddled the Raider defense with 21 completions in 28 attempts for 332 yards and 3 touchdowns.

But for much of the afternoon, he looked no more pressured than a man shooting at targets in a carnival booth. Or pitching batting practice.

The Raiders failed to mount a pass rush. At any point. No sacks. No pressure. No nothing. The closest they got to Esiason was the post-game handshake.

It was bad enough facing him with a secondary decimated by injuries. Three starters from opening day (Van McElroy, Stacey Toran and Terry McDaniel) and one from last season (Lionel Washington) were out with injuries. But to ask the revamped secondary (regular starter Mike Haynes, joined by Eddie Anderson, Russell Carter and Dennis Price) to stop an Esiason given all the time he needed proved to be too much.

For the Raiders (2-3) the emphasis has definitely shifted. The questions are no longer who will play quarterback and who will protect him? Those have largely been answered. The big question now is: What about the opponent's offense? Who will stop it ?

"It's very upsetting," said Raider defensive end Howie Long. "The Bengals are probably the best play-action team in the league, the best at faking the run and going to the pass. Boomer has been above and beyond the rest all year. He's having a great year.

"We have to be very critical on ourselves and then go back to work. We can't pack it in. We're losers if we pack it in."

Haynes could only shake his head at what he saw out there Sunday.

"We're a young team and we make a lot of mistakes," he said. "Maybe because of the Monday night game and the fact it was a short week for us. I don't know. Maybe we were flat. I don't know, but we haven't stopped anybody. When you have the talent. You have to get the most out of it. When you don't have the talent, you have to use deception. I'm not convinced we don't have the talent, but I was embarrassed.

"When you have a guy like Boomer out there who is accurate, maybe the most accurate quarterback in the league, if you give a guy like that enough time, he's going to pick you apart. I'm not really sure, until I see the films, exactly what happened, but I know I heard the crowd roaring a lot and I know they were not roaring for us."

What happened was that Esiason was repeatedly throwing off play-action, finding wide-open receivers time and again, 18 to 25 yards downfield. He was like a good fighter at the top of his game, mixing in jabs, uppercuts and overhand rights. He seemed to throw everything in his arsenal, and everything worked.

And everybody got into the act. His 21 completions were spread among 8 receivers. Three of them caught 4 each: Eddie Brown for 85 yards, Tim McGee for 63 yards and James Brooks for 49 yards. Stanford Jennings caught 3 for 57 yards.

The touchdown passes went to McGee (9 yards) Ira Hillary (15 yards) and Rodney Holman (14 yards).

"I could more or less pick and choose (receivers) today," Esiason said. "When you have time to control the line of scrimmage, more often that not, you're going to make a big play. And that's exactly what happened. We're not trying to rub anybody's face in it. We're just trying to keep it in perspective.

"But when you're hot like that, you just hope it never ends. You ride the wave and hope you never reach a pinnacle."

Esiason and Co. rode that wave for 496 yards in total offense, holding the ball for a little more than 35 minutes.

It was high tide for a team that is 5-0 and the only unbeaten squad in the National Football League after winning only 4 games last season.

"I've thought about how good it would be to gloat," Bengal Coach Sam Wyche said. "We feel great, but we can't afford that. If we keep going, when it's all over, we'll grab the other coaches and the players and hug (them) and maybe glow a little.

"This is pretty good for a team that was about to fire its coach a year ago."

The Bengals didn't dominate the Raiders statistically, despite the final score, but that is largely because the Raiders got a couple of touchdowns in the fourth quarter, long after the cause was lost. They finished with 405 yards in total offense, but it wasn't anything they were bragging about.

Oddly enough, it was the Raiders who seemed to be on the verge of a big day at the start. When the Bengals' first possession ended miserably on an 11-yard punt by Scott Fulhage, the Raiders took over on the Bengal 36.

From there, they moved down to the 12, where they faced a fourth and 1.

Raider Coach Mike Shanahan chose to go for it, and got it on a dive off the right side by Marcus Allen.

But 3 plays later, quarterback Jay Schroeder, looking for Mervyn Fernandez in the end zone, fired a ball at the goal line that was tipped by Bengal linebacker Leo Barker into the arms of teammate Lewis Billups.

"That was a big key," Schroeder said. "I have no one else to blame. I shouldn't have thrown the ball in there. There's no else else to point the finger at. I know better."

Before he was done, Schroeder would have plenty of blame to shoulder. He threw 4 interceptions and completed just 17 of 44 pass attempts for 324 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Three of the interceptions came in a bizarre span of just over 6 minutes at the start of the third period.

Schroeder threw a ball picked off by David Fulcher, saw the Bengals drive down and score, then threw a second interception to Fulcher on the Raiders' next possession. This time, the Raiders were luckier. Fulcher ran about 10 yards and fumbled, the ball being recovered by Tim Brown, the intended receiver.

Another chance, another turnover.

Schroeder, on the second play from scrimmage, put the ball right back into the arms of the Bengals. This time Eric Thomas got the interception.

"Everybody was not on the same page," said Schroeder of a game in which it didn't even look as if everybody was reading the same book. "There are days like that. That's why they play 16 games. We're going to come back and work hard. We play again next week, don't we?"

Raider Notes

The highlights for Jay Schroeder came on scoring passes of 65 yards to Tim Brown and 24 yards to Mervyn Fernandez, and a 5-yard quarterback draw for a touchdown. . . . Cincinnati got 3 rushing touchdowns, from Stanford Jennings (from 5 yards out), Ickey Woods (3 yards) and Stanley Wilson (1 yard). . . . Cincinnati's James Brooks was knocked out of action in the first half with a fractured right hand, while Stanley Wilson left in the fourth quarter with a bruised hip. . . . This was the first Bengal victory on the Raiders' home field after 7 losses in Oakland and 1 in Los Angeles.

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