Raider tailback Marcus Allen had a premonition before Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals that wide receiver Tim Brown would play well.
“Marcus has been my inspirational leader,” Brown said. “He’s been telling me to hang in there.”
His confidence bolstered by Allen, Brown caught two touchdown passes as the Raiders defeated the Bengals, 24-7, at the Coliseum to clinch their first playoff berth since the 1985 season.
Brown caught a five-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jay Schroeder to tie the score, 7-7, in the first quarter. Brown scooped up a low pass from Schroeder at the goal line for his second touchdown reception of the season. It was the same play on which Brown scored a three-yard touchdown in last Monday night’s 38-31 victory over the Detroit Lions.
Brown added a 44-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter to give the Raiders a 14-7 lead.
On third and three at the Bengal 44, Brown caught a pass at the 32 and outran a defender to the end zone. The Bengals left Brown in single coverage because they double-covered wide receivers Willie Gault and Mervyn Fernandez.
“It was a simple end route over the middle and I was supposed to hook it up the field,” Brown said. “But there was a linebacker sitting where I was supposed to hook it up and I decided to keep on sliding and Jay stayed with me. Mervyn was supposed to run an in route and he ran an out and it opened up the middle.”
Brown, who had only 14 catches for 170 yards and one touchdown coming into the contest, had his most productive game this season, catching three passes for 69 yards.
But Brown almost set up a Cincinnati touchdown when he fumbled a punt at the Raider 44. However, the Raider defense thwarted the drive when Terry McDaniel intercepted a pass from quarterback Boomer Esiason in the end zone.
“It’s tough because (Bengal punter Lee Johnson) is left-footed and the ball takes off right and then slashes back to the left,” Brown said. “I just didn’t stay with it long enough.”
Brown, the 1987 Heisman Trophy winner, made an instant impact after he was drafted by the Raiders in 1988. He was the NFL’s best kick returner, he led the Raiders with 43 catches for 725 yards and made the Pro Bowl. He broke Gale Sayers’ record for most total yardage by a rookie, compiling 2,316 yards on receptions, rushes, kickoff and punt returns.
But Brown’s 1989 season came to an abrupt end in the opener when he tore ligaments in his left knee while returning a kickoff against the San Diego Chargers.
Doctors re-attached one of the ligaments to a hamstring and stapled another ligament to allow it to mend back to the bone. The staple was removed after four months.
It was a devastating injury for Brown because the medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments enable the knee to withstand quick cuts, and quick cuts enabled Brown to elude defenders.
“Early on I had doubts about whether I’d be able to come back and cut and run like I was able to before I got hurt,” Brown said. “But after February I was able to cut and spin again without any problems. I can play this game at 4.5 (speed in the 40-yard dash), but I can’t do it without my moves. Once I stepped on the football field, I wasn’t worried.”
During Brown’s absence, Fernandez emerged as the Raiders’ top receiver last season and Brown was relegated to a backup role when he returned. The Raiders’ No. 3 receiver this season behind Fernandez and Gault, Brown has been employed as an extra wide receiver in third-down situations.
“Mervyn had such a great year that it was tough for me to come back and say, ‘I want my job back,’ ” Brown said. “And Willie is Willie. He’s going to go out and beat people deep and do the things that Al (Davis) likes him to do. Right now I’m a third-down guy. I try to come in on third down and help the team out.”
Because teams have concentrated on stopping Gault and Fernandez, Brown has emerged as a potent weapon, catching three touchdown passes in the past two games after failing to catch a touchdown pass in the Raiders’ first 12 games. All of Brown’s touchdown receptions have come on third down.
“Willie and Mervyn are playing so great that teams haven’t been thinking about me,” Brown said. “They’ve been double-teaming them and leaving me one-on-one. Now they’re going to have to put six or seven defensive backs on field just to cover everybody.”
Although he went five games without catching a pass, Brown remained patient.
“It was easy to stay patient because we were winning,” Brown said. “It would have been a lot more difficult if we weren’t winning games. But we started out the year 4-0 and then we went to 6-1 and it’s tough to be complaining when your team is doing well. If it’s my job not to catch any passes I’ve got to bide my time and go on.
“I’ve never accepted my role, but you just have to adjust. I want to play every down, but right now my role is to go out and play on third down.”
Schroeder isn’t surprised that Brown has started to produce.
“Tim’s been the forgotten man all year,” Schroeder said. “It’s nice to see him get involved. We’ve been struggling all year trying to get everybody involved in the offense.
“I think he’s got his confidence back. It’s tough to keep your confidence up when things aren’t going well and you don’t feel like you’re a part of it. Coming out of college he was used to making every play. Let’s just get him the ball and see if he can make some plays. He’s proved that he can make some big plays.”