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Raiders' loss hands home field to Steelers

12/31/2001

DENVER (AP) -- Nobody could convince the Denver Broncos they had
nothing to play for -- not with the Oakland Raiders on the other
sideline.

Rod Smith caught eight passes, Terrell Davis rushed for 89 yards
and the Denver defense held on in the fourth quarter as the Broncos
delivered another blow to their rivals' playoff plans with a 23-17
victory over Oakland on Sunday.

The Broncos (8-7) are eliminated from playoff contention, but it
didn't show on the field or in the stands at the final home game of
their first season at Invesco Field.

Only about 5,000 fans didn't use their tickets, and the stadium
shook furiously in the final minutes as the defense made four
straight stops. The fans were rewarded by a gutsy, last-second win
for the Broncos over the team that's taken their former perch atop
the AFC West.

"A lot of people said we didn't have anything to play for,"
said Smith, who set the franchise record for receptions and tied
the record for TDs. "If you think you have nothing to play for,
then play for the guy next to you. If we had done that all year, we
would be preparing for the playoffs."

What's the Raiders' biggest problem right now?
The Raiders' biggest problem is that they're not playing strong on defense. They played a bit better versus the Broncos, but they're still struggling against the run.

On offense, the Raiders haven't been converting when they get in the red zone; they're not scoring enough touchdowns. Plus, the kicking game has hurt them recently.

The Raiders are not a confident football team right now. To say they're not going into the playoffs with much momentum would be an understatement.

ESPN.com's Vinny Cerrato was director of player personnel for the Redskins and 49ers.


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After Jason Elam kicked a 42-yard field goal with 1:32 left, the
Raiders moved to the Denver 17, but Rich Gannon threw two
incompletions to the end zone before Kenoy Kennedy intercepted
Gannon's fourth-down throw as time expired.

"I had my hands over my eyes," said Denver coach Mike
Shanahan, who gave his team the day off during the postgame locker
room celebration. "I told our team that I think they're trying to
kill me."

The Raiders (10-5) clinched the AFC West title two weeks ago,
but they seem to be doing their best to lose a first-round bye with
three losses in five weeks of inconsistent play.

The Raiders snapped a seven-game losing streak against the
Broncos last month, but they haven't won in Denver since 1994.
Coach Jon Gruden felt Oakland didn't exactly play poorly, but key
penalties and turnovers made the difference.

"Discipline is our problem," Gannon said. "We need to be more
disciplined and detailed in every phase of the game. It's not a
question of us playing hard. We play hard every week. ... I'll get
scolded for saying that, but that's fine."

Despite their dismal December, the Raiders still will get a bye
if they beat the New York Jets at home next week and New England
beats Carolina (1-14).

"We've just got to go back and clean up everything," said
Jerry Rice, who made all eight of his catches for 99 yards in the
first half. "We've got to start from the bottom and look at
ourselves. If we don't get that bye week, fine -- as long as we
clean up our mistakes."

Smith, who has 106 catches, jogged into the end zone with a
12-yard TD catch that put the Broncos up 20-17 with 9:59 left.

Oakland then failed to get past midfield on three straight
drives. After an interception by Denver's Deltha O'Neal, a 70-yard
TD catch by Jerry Rice was called back on a tripping penalty
against guard Frank Middleton. The Raiders also turned the ball
over meekly on downs with 2 minutes left.

Denver couldn't sack Gannon once in its loss at Oakland last
month, but the Broncos kept him under pressure this time. Early on,
Bill Romanowski caused a fumble with a vicious hit on Gannon,
setting up the Broncos' first field goal.

Still, Gannon completed his first 16 passes until Charlie Garner
dropped a simple screen toss with 8:40 left in the second quarter.
Moments later, Garner leaped for a 6-yard TD catch.

Gannon was 20-for-22 in the first half, and he completed six
straight passes on the Raiders' first drive of the second half,
hitting Jeremy Brigham for a 1-yard TD that turned out to be
Oakland's final score.

"We might not lead the league in grit, we might not have the
youngest skilled players in football, but we are going to be there
in the fourth quarter," Gruden said. "We are in the playoffs. We
will be there when the postseason starts."

Brian Griese, in his first start since missing most of three
games with a concussion, was 19-of-26 for 142 yards while also
rushing for a score.

Davis had one of his best games of the season in what might have
been his final home game with the Broncos. Denver doesn't think it
will be able to afford to keep the oft-injured Davis, a free agent
in the spring.

"I walked off the field. That's very encouraging," Davis
said.

Game notes
Rice got his 13th 1,000-yard receiving season. ... With a
34-yard run early in the second quarter, Davis passed Floyd Little
to become the Broncos' career leader in yards from scrimmage. ...
Smith passed Ed McCaffrey's team record of 101 catches in a season.