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Poised, patient and precise

Raiders carve up Dolphins' D, advance to AFC title game

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Posted: Saturday January 06, 2001 8:07 PM
Updated: Saturday January 06, 2001 9:02 PM

  James Jett The Raiders' James Jett spikes the football after his 6-yard touchdown. AP

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- The Miami Dolphins' pass rushers poured in on Rich Gannon. He darted outside the collapsing pocket, scampered toward the sideline and slid untouched just past the first-down marker.

Miami defensive end Jason Taylor hopped indignantly and flung his hands in the air. Thanks to Gannon's poise and a patient game plan, the Oakland Raiders made Saturday afternoon a profoundly frustrating experience for the Dolphins' vaunted defense.

The Raiders' offense was never spectacular in the team's 27-0 divisional playoff victory. But with Gannon leading the way and head coach Jon Gruden picking apart the Dolphins' defensive scheme, the game was a minimalist masterpiece.

"This is a 3-, 4-, 5-yard offense," said receiver Tim Brown, who had just two catches for 27 yards. "We'll nickel-and-dime you all the way down the field."

No Oakland receiver had more than two catches, yet seven players caught passes. No rusher managed 60 yards, yet six players gained positive yardage. Gannon didn't complete a pass longer than 32 yards, and the Raiders held onto the ball for nearly 37 1/2 minutes.

Oakland blew out its last six home opponents this season with prolific offensive days, but the Raiders made no game-breaking plays and compiled no huge statistics against Miami. Instead, Gannon carved up the Dolphins with short passes and short-yardage scrambles that led to a series of simple touchdowns and field goals.

"It was a battle of field position, and our defense really controlled the tempo of the game and set us up well," Gannon said.

Gannon finished 12-of-18 for 143 yards in one of his least eye-catching but most satisfying afternoons of the season. Cementing his reputation as a deceptively mobile quarterback, he rushed just five times in the first three quarters, but four of those runs resulted in first downs.

"When you get Rich running around and sliding in an inch past the first-down marker, that can wear you down," Brown said.

Oakland controlled the ball for nearly 28 minutes of the first three quarters, with Miami's turnovers and the Raiders' offensive patience slowly turning the game into a laugher.

"We just beat them down," offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy said. "We played our game, and we took it to them hard."

Gannon found James Jett for a 6-yard TD pass shortly before halftime, while Tyrone Wheatley capped the Raiders' scoring with a bruising 2-yard run midway through the third quarter. Sebastian Janikowski confidently kicked two field goals and came up a few feet short on a 58-yard attempt at the halftime gun.

Wheatley had limited success against the Dolphins' run defense, but he pounded out valuable yardage and consumed time on 19 carries for 56 yards. Randy Jordan and Terry Kirby made several big runs, and Gannon took care of the rest of Oakland's ground game.

"I had a chance to let our offensive line worst run behind their blocks," Wheatley said. "Some of those runs were just 2- or 3-yard runs, but you look back on them, and they were tough, hard-nosed runs."

The Raiders will face either Baltimore or Tennessee in the AFC championship game. Both potential opponents have stellar defenses considered on a par with Miami's unit, but with the convincing win against the Dolphins, Oakland may have a game plan to beat the league's best defenses.

 
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