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Birden Is Quite a Catch : Chiefs: Receiver burns Raider secondary for eight receptions, 188 yards and two touchdowns.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Wide receiver J.J. Birden of the Kansas City Chiefs sensed that he was due for a big game because he was catching a lot of passes in practice.

Birden’s intuition proved correct. He caught a career-high eight passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns as the Chiefs defeated the Raiders, 27-21, Sunday at the Coliseum to secure home-field advantage for next week’s AFC wild-card playoff game against the Raiders.

“I knew that eventually I was going to have a day like this and it finally happened,” Birden said. “No doubt about it, this was the biggest day of my career. And that includes everything from Pop Warner football through high school and college.”

With the score tied, 7-7, Birden beat Raider safety Eddie Anderson for a 57-yard touchdown reception on the first play of the second quarter to give the Chiefs a 14-7 lead.

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“It was my fault all the way,” Anderson said. “Lionel (Washington) missed a jam (on Birden) and I was standing still. Before I had a chance to look up he was running by me. I didn’t know the guy could run like that but I’ll know next week.”

Birden said the touchdown was set up by a play action fake to running back Barry Word.

“We were hoping they would read the run and (Anderson) did exactly what we wanted,” Birden said. “He took a step forward thinking it was a run and I just ran right by him.”

After the Raiders cut the score to 20-14 when quarterback Todd Marinovich threw his second touchdown pass with 9:31 left, Birden caught a 53-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Steve DeBerg to give the Chiefs a 27-14 lead with seven minutes remaining. With the Raiders blitzing on third-and-seven at the Kansas City 47, Birden beat Raider cornerback Torin Dorn.

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“That pass was just designed to get the first down, but if they blitz there’s a chance of turning it into something big,” Birden said. “And they blitzed, meaning there was only one safety in the middle of the field, and I just took it to the end zone.”

DeBerg, who completed 14 of 20 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns, and Birden seemed to work well together as the Chiefs accumulated 468 yards in total offense and did not punt.

“He threw some great passes,” Birden said of DeBerg. “In the past we hadn’t been connecting, but everything was thrown perfectly today. Everything clicked for me and DeBerg today. We were able to mix it up. We were able to run and throw the deep ball and the Raiders never knew what was coming.”

Although Birden had caught only 19 passes for 277 yards and no touchdowns in 15 previous games this season, he looked like an All-Pro against the Raider secondary, which helped to make a star out of a little known wide receiver for the second consecutive game. New Orleans wide receiver Quinn Early had a career-high four catches for 127 yards, including a 52-yard reception, in last Monday’s 27-0 victory over the Raiders.

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Birden, who surpassed his previous single-game best of five receptions and 90 yards by catching six passes for 123 yards in the first half, had a 26-yard reception to the Raider 25 in the final minute of the half. Birden fumbled the ball out of bounds after Anderson hit him, but replay officials ruled that Birden had control before he fumbled.

One of the hardest hitters in the NFL, Anderson took a good shot at Birden, but Birden did not flinch despite his size--5 feet 9, 157 pounds.

“J.J.'s an outstanding receiver but the thing that concerned me was that he took a lot of hard hits,” DeBerg said. “But he held together. He got pounded several times, but he kept on going and came up with that long play at the end which really broke it open.”

Birden said his size has never been a disadvantage on the football field.

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“I’ve been hearing that I’m too small to play football all my life,” Birden said. “But I don’t let it bother me because there are a lot of good small players out there.”

Birden was not recruited as a football player when he graduated from Lakeridge High in Lake Oswego, Ore. because recruiters thought him too small at 5-9, 139 pounds.

“I was recruited by a few schools, but everybody wanted me to walk on because they said I was too small,” Birden said. Instead, Birden attended Oregon on a track scholarship and won the Pacific 10 Conference long jump championship as a sophomore. He also walked onto the football team, but did not play much. He earned a starting spot as a senior in 1987 and was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the eighth round of the 1988 draft.

Birden sat out the 1988 season after suffering a knee injury in minicamp. Although Birden had hoped to compete in the 1988 U.S. Olympic track and field trials, the knee injury ended his long jump career. His days as a football player also seemed in jeopardy after he was released by the Browns in ’89.

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However, Chiefs Coach Marty Schottenheimer, who was coaching Cleveland when the Browns drafted Birden, persuaded the Chiefs to sign Birden as a free agent last season.

He has caught on since then.


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