Tuesday, December 3, 2002
Updated: December 4, 12:46 PM ET
Rarely has a celebration been so helpful
By John Clayton
OAKLAND, Calif. -- When the subject is the 2002 Oakland Raiders, you can start and end the conversation with statistics.
That's what this team is all about: Offensive stats, record-breaking stats, and stats that would make a trivia buff smile at the possibilities.
Tim Brown became the NFL's third 1,000-catch receiver Monday night. On top of that, he passed James Lofton to become the NFL's second all-time leading receiver -- behind Jerry Rice -- with 14,004 yards. Speaking of Rice, the legend caught touchdown pass No. 192 along with his NFL-record 1,441 receptions (for 21,408 yards). Rich Gannon tied an NFL record with his ninth 300-yard game of the season.
But this might be the first time in NFL history that the onfield celebration for a statistical milestone helped win a football game. Because despite the stats gluttony, the Raiders' offense seriously sputtered during Monday night's 26-20 victory over the Jets. Gannon threw for 342 yards, but his decisions weren't great. Teammates made mental mistakes and penalties.
Then, with 11:02 left in the third quarter, Brown caught his 1,000th career pass and the game stopped. Camera crews rushed to the middle of the field. A souvenir silver ball was rushed to Brown; next came the big surprise. Brown's mom, Josephine, was driven onto the field on a golf cart followed by his father, four sisters, a son, a daughter, a mother-in-law and some nieces.
The ceremony resembled the surprise arrival of the Publishers Clearinghouse Prize Patrol. Another oddity: The Jets knew nothing of the celebration beforehand. "Our team was informed and we knew what was going on,'' Raiders coach Bill Callahan said. "The referees and officials knew about the stoppage. It was not intended to mar the game or take away anything from the Jets at that point.''
The ceremony did affect the Jets. The extra time gave the Raiders' offensive line a chance to relax and regroup. "Offensive linemen want to take a break whenever they can,'' Brown said. It also gave Gannon a chance to go to the sideline and discuss a critical third down situation with offensive coordinator Marc Trestman.
At the time, the Raiders trailed, 10-6. The offense had six foolish penalties in the first half, and despite a 12-minute halftime break, Gannon was flagged for a delay of game five plays into the second half. On the play before Brown's 1,000th catch, Gannon was sacked.
This was an offense that wasn't in rhythm. So, while Brown embraced his mother -- who hadn't seen him play a football game since junior high because she detests the violence of the sport -- Trestman and Gannon schemed.
All night long, they had noticed that middle linebacker Marvin Jones loved to fall back deep into coverage on two- and three-deep zone situations. So, Gannon gathered his teammates and called a 10-yard "square in'' to Rice on third-and-10 from the Jets' 26.
Getting a first down or a touchdown was critical because the Raiders had four trips into Jets territory in the first half and came away with only two field goals. Despite having 18:24 possession time to the Jets' 11:36 in the first half, and 37 plays to 22, the Raiders trailed on the scoreboard.
"That play had been working all day,'' wide receiver Jerry Porter said. "My job was to divert the attention of the middle linebacker, and the defense rushed to me. That left the area open for Jerry.''
Rice caught the 10-yard square in and turned it into a 26-yard touchdown. On the next possession, the Raiders got a break after a sputtering drive to midfield. Jets backup punt-returner Chad Morton, filling in for Santana Moss who was out of the game with an ankle injury, fumbled a punt return at the Jets' 12. Four plays later, Zack Crockett scored a 1-yard touchdown, giving the Raiders a 20-10 lead.
Though it constantly puts up great numbers, Raiders mistakes forced them to settle for too many field goals or nothing at all. One of the critiques of the four-game losing streak earlier in the season was the team's inability to score touchdowns in the red zone.
Was this starting again? Maybe it was.
During a nine-play drive that started with 4:58 left in the first quarter and lasted until the second quarter, the Raiders committed four penalties. Three were false starts, which is hard to do in home games where the crowd noise favors the offense.
"We were all a little antsy,'' right tackle Lincoln Kennedy said. "Everyone was jittery. All of the offense wanted to go out and put on a show for Monday Night Football.''
Gannon was more out of sync than anyone. He was sacked four times. His scrambling around on third down wasn't accomplishing much.
"Mistakes were killing us,'' Gannon said. "I thought we were productive on first down, but then we'd have a penalty. It was brutal. We had a big screen completion but it was called back from a holding penalty. Those problems had been addressed.''
Despite completing 31 of 42 passes for 342 yards, Gannon acknowledged that he struggled to get into a good rhythm. Jets quarterback Chad Pennington rallied the Jets to come back and make the game close, but a final drive stalled when Rod Woodson intercepted a fourth-down pass thrown from the Raiders' 46 as time expired.
"The most important stat is the win,'' Gannon said.
And that stat came about largely because of the celebration for Brown, who is Mr. Raider. He's been catching passes for this team since 1988, and it was nice he was able to celebrate with his family on the field and his family of fans in the stands.
"They had T-shirts made for him,'' Rice said. "I was thinking, 'God, that didn't happen when I got 1,000.' ''
Seeing his mom really made this special because Brown didn't have a clue she was coming to the game.
"She doesn't like the violence,'' Brown said. "She told me once that if I wanted to get those (defensive) guys away from me, all I had to do was hand them the ball. She's mom. She doesn't like to see her son hit.''
In the third quarter after the catch, Brown was crunched by Jets cornerback Aaron Beasley, forcing a potential completion from his hands. "I'm sure I'm going to hear from mom about that,'' Brown said.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.