Spot On: Remember the Titans/Raiders AFC Championship Game?

Russell S. Baxter

Spot On: Remember the Titans/Raiders AFC Championship Game?

By Brandon Fazzolari

Special to Pro Football Guru

When the New England Patriots won three Super Bowls at the turn of the century over four seasons, their 2001 championship was shrouded in controversy due to “the tuck rule game.” The Oakland Raiders were the victims of this now-defunct ruling. They walked off the snowy Foxborough field feeling forlorn. However, they bounced back powerfully in 2002 led by NFL MVP Rich Gannon and new head coach named Bill Callahan.

Their opponent in the AFC championship game at season’s end would be the Tennessee Titans. Before they renew their rivalry this Sunday in Oakland, let’s take a look back at that forgotten shootout.

Rugged Combatants

During the regular season, Oakland’s offense was virtually unstoppable. In fact, when the teams matched up in September, the Raiders won decisively 52-25. In addition to Gannon, Oakland had two Hall of Fame wide receivers in Tim Brown and Jerry Rice. The three stars combined for 46 seasons of professional experience coming into the 2002 campaign and it showed as they shredded opposing defenses. Add to that fray slot-man Jerry Porter, tight end Roland Williams and running back Charlie Garner who contributed 900 rushing and 900 receiving yards.

On defense, they did things the Raiders way as well as they started a number of players who were successful in other organizations before coming to town. None of those acquisitions performed better in 2002 than 37-year old All-Pro safety Rod Woodson.

Tennessee was no pushover in those days, however. Head coach Jeff Fisher came from the Buddy Ryan coaching tree so his defenses were always strong in that era. Their most memorable team members, though, were on offense. Starting quarterback Steve McNair and Ohio State running back Eddie George were known for being tough and competitive. Thus, the showdown was set for the right to go to Super Bowl XXXVII.

First Half Fireworks

The Raiders received the opening kickoff and Gannon came out firing. On the game’s first offensive play, Gannon passed to Rice for 29 yards. Four plays later Gannon hit Porter on a three-yard touchdown toss and a quick 7-0 lead.

The visiting Titans quickly responded by driving 74 yards on nine plays. The tying touchdown came on a 33-yard pass from McNair to wide receiver Drew Bennett.

It was now Oakland’s turn to drive the length of the field for a score. This time it was Gannon to Garner from the 12-yard line. Trailing 14-7, the Titans took control in the second quarter. First they drove for a field goal. Then, at the 8:54 mark, Tennessee began a time-consuming drive, smartly mixing run and pass. They were aided by a pair of penalties and moved to the Oakland nine-yard line. From there, Tennessee’s quarterback broke free inside and battled his way into the end zone in one of those signature Steve McNair touchdowns. The Titans now led 17-14.

Tennessee Fumbles

It would be Oakland’s defense that would turn in the next big play and quite possibly, the critical play of the ball game. With 1:28 remaining in the half, Eric Barton forced a Titans fumble which was recovered by Anthony Dorsett at the Tennessee 16-yard line. A Gannon to Rice pass to the post on first down took the ball to the one. From there Gannon faked inside and lofted a pass to tight end Doug Jolley for a touchdown and a 21-17 advantage.

Tennessee fumbled again on the ensuing kickoff which led to a Sebastian Janikowski field goal just before the break.

In the third quarter, the Titans miscues continued. An intense Oakland punt rush forced Tennessee’s Craig Hentrich to pull the ball down and try to run. That didn’t work out well for the Titans. Therefore, Oakland had another short field which set up another Janikowski field goal.

But, there was no quit in this Tennessee team. There never was. McNair completed four passes on their next series and finished the drive by running in for another score. They only trailed by three points heading into the fourth quarter. However, McNair was not the only quarterback that could scramble in this game. It would be Gannon that scored the decisive TD on a two-yard run. Oakland added one more score on a Zack Crockett run and won it 41-24.

Legacy

The Raiders were back in the Super Bowl after a 19-year absence. They would proceed to get pummeled by Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Over the next 13 years, the Raiders went 63-145 with no playoff appearances. Like Oakland, Tennessee has been unable to make it back to the conference championship game since 2002.

We are not sure what the future holds for these proud franchises. What we do know for sure, however, is in the past, they gave an AFC championship game littered with legendary players, game-changing plays and a silver and black coronation.

Brandon Fazzolari (@spot_bills) is a lifelong Buffalo Bills fan and a Vegas sports reporter for Vegas the Network.

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