Monday, January 20
Raiders' line set the tone
By John Madden
Well, we started off with a dozen teams for this month's playoffs and now we're down to two: the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They will meet this Sunday in San Diego in Super Bowl XXXVII on ABC (pre-game show, 2 p.m. ET; game, 6 p.m. ET).
They are all big, strong guys. When Gannon goes back in the pocket, he doesn't even get touched. His uniform stays clean and that's not a good thing for an opposing defense. I remember seeing one shot on television on Sunday of big, ol' Frank Middleton down on the field, and I was thinking at the time, that he was really spread out down there. He doesn't put the fork down much when he eats.
There were a lot of big plays in this game, but I thought the play where the Raiders would have blocked Craig Hentrich's punt if he had tried to kick the ball was huge. He had to field a wide snap and he ended up having to run with the ball. Special teams are such a big part of every game and we've seen that in these playoffs. That's something that isn't talked about much when people are breaking down the games before they're played. Heck, sometimes it's not talked about much after the game.
Big plays on special teams are momentum-changers, and that's what happened in this game. That play seemed to really break the Titans' spirit. That was a tough thing for them to overcome.
Tennessee also had some turnovers at the end of the first half and that changed things going into halftime. They had a couple fumbles there, and so they went from having the ball to -- BOOM! -- the other team has the ball.
This was the Raiders' day and they were the better team. But the Titans put up a heckuva fight and quarterback Steve McNair was a one-man gang for 'em on offense. I have as much respect for him as anyone in football. And he might be the best quarterback in the game right now. He can run, or he can run then throw or he can just throw. And he's such a tough guy and a great competitor.
Closing a dark curtain at the Vet
Jon Gruden deserves a lot of credit for this win, and he did a really good job in a couple of areas. One, he was hired last February from Oakland to get this Tampa Bay team over the hump of the conference championship game and he did that. Two, the Bucs had that cold weather thing where they couldn't win in those conditions. Well, he had his guys ready for it and they played well in those conditions.
In the past in cold weather, they would just kind of shrivel up in the pregame warmups, and then early in the game, during the game and late in the game. They just never played well in it. But they sure as heck played well in it in Philadelphia. And from watching that game, you could just see that they were ready for it from the way they ran onto the field, and the way they warmed up and then how they played. They weren't worried about that cold weather baloney. I was impressed with how they acted in a hostile, cold environment. I had never seen that before from them.
Following that big return by Mitchell and the subsequent Duce Staley score, they were down by a touchdown, but they regrouped, and I guess that Gruden said to his guys, "OK, take a deep breath, and start all over." They were down 7-0, but they did regroup and played well after that.
A big thing for them was the pass protection that Brad Johnson's offensive line gave him. He's a big, strong guy, but he's not mobile. As a defense, you have to put pressure on him and knock him around. It seems like over the years, everyone does. But I'm not sure if the Eagles even touched him.
Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb didn't seem to ever get going on offense. A big reason for that was the defense on the other side of the ball, but McNabb never seemed to loosen up. I'm not sure that he ever got into being himself. When I say loosen up, I mean, he has to play a little loosey-goosey. That's when he's running around or, running and then throwing, and those kinds of things. But against the Bucs, he seemed kind of methodical and tight.