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Steamed Rice on the Side(line)

The Raiders won a football game Sunday, a very big deal in Oakland these days, and their legendary 41-year-old wide receiver counted down the final moments by shouting out in anger, kicking a yard marker and bouncing his helmet on the sideline so hard, it flew over the team bench.

Finally, the Raiders appeared to rediscover the recipe for victory in a 13-10 triumph over the Buffalo Bills.

And with it, they stumbled into a recipe for Hall of Fame intestinal distress: Extra Curry, hold the Rice.

For the first time in nearly 19 years, for the first time since his rookie season, Jerry Rice failed to catch a pass in an NFL game.

The last time that happened, 275 games ago, was Dec. 1, 1985. At the time, Rice was still breaking in with the San Francisco 49ers, who would finish second in the NFC West that season to a Ram team that called Anaheim its home and Dieter Brock its starting quarterback.

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Sunday, in the second game of his 20th NFL season, with more than 1,500 career receptions to his name, Rice was held to zero receptions.

With the sun shining, the grass dry and not a storm cloud in sight.

With Rich Gannon, the league’s most valuable player in 2002, acting as his quarterback.

With Norv Turner, who knows something about throwing the football, serving as his head coach.

Amazingly, Gannon completed 19 passes to seven different receivers -- including five for 89 yards and a touchdown to a college quarterback-turned-pro-wideout named Ronald Curry -- and none to the greatest pass receiver of all time.

In his postgame news conference, Gannon said he hadn’t been aware of Rice’s receptions streak, long a league record, but “knowing Jerry like I know him, I don’t think he would have wanted someone to throw him a ball” just to preserve the streak. Gannon ought to get to know Rice better.

“I expect to catch footballs,” Rice told reporters. At least one per game. Not too much to ask. As the final gun approached, and the streak’s end with it, Rice demonstrated what the record meant to him. He took out his frustrations on the 30-yard marker, punting it, and on his helmet, spiking it, and on the Raider bench, plopping himself on it and sulking through the final minutes.

Rice later apologized for his actions, though he did acknowledge that he “never thought [the streak] would come to an end like this.” He added: “Life goes on. I’ll just start another one and get another 200.”

Worth noting: Curry was six years old when Rice began his 274-game streak. And on the day it came to an end, the Raiders completed four passes to tight end Doug Jolley, three to wide receiver Jerry Porter, three to running back Amos Zereoue, two to running back J.R. Redmond, one to fullback Zack Crockett and one to running back Tyrone Wheatley.

Future football historians will want to know.

And while they’re examining the events of Sept. 19, 2004, they will also want to ponder two other incredible streaks extended on the same day: The New England Patriots moved to 17-0 in their last 17 games.

The Detroit Lions moved to 2-0 in 2004.

Seventeen-and-oh. That’s a magic number in the NFL, the same record the 1972 Miami Dolphins produced during their fabled undefeated season.

They said it would never be equaled, not in a 21st century NFL diluted by expansion and parity and the weekly insanity that has become the league’s trademark. But there the Patriots are, 17-0 since last September, including three victories during their latest Super Bowl run and a 23-12 decision over Arizona on Sunday.

With the victory, the Patriots are guaranteed of completing a full year undefeated. New England last lost on Sept. 28, 2003 -- to the Washington Redskins, who, coincidentally, were the last team to hold Rice without a reception. That was 1985, Year 5 of Joe Gibbs I.

New England is idle next weekend, its next game set for Oct. 3 in Buffalo. Win there and the Patriots will tie the league record for consecutive victories. Win the following week, at home against 0-2 Miami, and they will be all alone at 19-0.

The Patriots are freaks of the new NFL, where teams seem to peak and collapse every other week, except in New England. In a league gone wild, the Patriots have cornered the market on stability where it matters most. Their coach, Bill Belichik, is the High Priest of Even Keel. They have the NFL’s steadiest quarterback in Tom Brady and a reliable defense.

Stack it all together and the Patriots are the one constant in a league that prides itself, and even markets itself, as America’s any-given-Sunday pastime.

Case in point: Detroit is in first place in the NFC North.

It doesn’t get more off-form than that, considering the Lions opened the season with the longest road losing streak in NFL history, 24 games in a row. Last week, Detroit snapped that streak by winning at Chicago, then, catching the Houston Texans while they were still shaking their heads, defeated them, 28-16, at home.

It probably can’t last, knowing the NFL and knowing the Lions. But, for a few hours, Detroit is holding out hope.

“We’ve established some momentum now,” Lion defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson told reporters, “and that can be contagious.”

In Detroit, 2-0 is known as a roll. And it will stay that way, at least until the next game on the schedule, when the Philadelphia Eagles roll into town.


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