McNair Rates Respect in Eyes of the Raiders

Times Staff Writer

Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair might be one of the most underrated players in the NFL, but he gets plenty of respect from the Raiders.

"The guy has played extremely well," said Oakland safety Rod Woodson, who formerly played for Baltimore and Pittsburgh. "I played against him for a long time in the AFC Central, and he's improved a lot. He's been banged up a lot this year, but I think he's been more focused."

The Raiders play host to Tennessee on Sunday in the AFC title game. The Titans have won 11 of 12 since their 1-4 start. During that bumpy beginning, they lost to the Raiders, 52-25.

"I think our guys know the football team we're playing next week is a different team than we played nine or 10 weeks ago," quarterback Rich Gannon said. "It's a different football team coming in here. We know that. But we're a different football team as well."

One of the differences with the Titan offense is that it once was centered around running back Eddie George, but McNair is now the focal point.

"McNair makes that team click -- running the football, throwing, making decisions," Woodson said. "Their offensive line is protecting pretty well, but the guy is a really good quarterback. He could and should be in the Pro Bowl."

Woodson said McNair poses more of a threat than New York's Chad Pennington did, mostly because of McNair's mobility.

"He's more of a scrambler," he said. "He'll scramble to run sometimes, whereas Pennington would scramble to throw. We knew that. When McNair gets out of the pocket -- this guy weighs like 240 -- he's coming downhill. I've seen him knock out some cornerbacks before."


Jerry Rice's third-quarter touchdown reception was the 21st postseason touchdown of his career, tying him with Dallas' Emmitt Smith and Buffalo's Thurman Thomas for most in playoff history.

But Rice is focused on a bigger goal.

"This team is on a mission," he said. "All year long we went through some adversity and we kept fighting. We stayed together. In this profession, all you ask for is an opportunity. We have an opportunity now."


Not that he needs any extra incentive, but Tennessee kicker Joe Nedney will have some when he faces the Raiders on Sunday. Even though he performed well for them, they cut him after the 1999 season to make room for first-round pick Sebastian Janikowski.


The Jets infuriated the Raiders by calling two timeouts in the final 14 seconds of the first half, even though the Raiders had the ball and could run out the clock. The halftime score was 10-10. In the second half, the Jets were blown out.

"When you talk a lot of trash, you can't help but wake people up," said Raider defensive end DeLawrence Grant.


Late in the game, several Jets jumped on Raider center Barret Robbins after Robbins fell to the ground injured.

According to several Raiders, the Jets were yelling, "You sent us home, now we're gonna send you home."

"When you do something like that, it's just not right," said Raider guard Frank Middleton. "We're going to be seeing these guys again, and we're not going to forget it."


Staff writer Bill Plaschke contributed to this report.

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