- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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"A typical Raider-Bronco game," said Denver linebacker Tommy Jackson, who's been playing in them for 12 years. "Usually the second and third quarters are when things get intense. By the fourth it settled down to just football."
Alzado and Bronco tight end Clarence Kay traded punches in the second quarter, then Kay and Raider linebacker Rod Martin had a go. Another time there was a near fight on a kickoff that was downed in the end zone, and there was even a fight on Plunkett's kneeldown that ran out the clock in the first half. This one was between Los Angeles center Dave Dalby and Denver rookie middle guard Scott Garnett.
"They came up to the line in falldown formation," Jackson said, "and I said to Jim, 'You going to sit on it?' and he said, 'Yeah.' Next thing I knew they snapped the ball and Scott just ran over Dalby, and then they were punching. When we were walking off, Dalby said to me, 'What's with that guy?' and I said, 'He's just a rook.' Maybe it's partly my fault. We've got a young team, awfully young. Twenty-one guys are first-or second-year players, 19 of them are younger than Elway. During the week I kind of preached to them, 'Don't block down. It doesn't mean anything that they're the Raiders. If you have to fight, then fight. If they kick you, kick 'em back.' They're so young they took it to heart."
Jackson is one of five remaining starters from the 1977 Orange Crush Super Bowl defense that still has its same coordinator, Joe Collier, and line coach, Stan Jones. At 33, Jackson is enjoying a rebirth as one of the game's premier outside linebackers, the leader of a high-powered unit that at times plays in a kind of frenzy. The previous week it had shut out Kansas City 21-0. Sunday the tone was set in the first quarter on a thundering hit by Karl Mecklenburg, a 250-pound second-year linebacker. On first down Plunkett threw his worst pass of the day, a check-off under pressure to Marcus Allen that floated a bit too high and made Allen stretch, thereby exposing his rib cage to permanent displacement. Mecklenburg obliged. "That hit," Jackson said, "told everyone in the stands what the game would be like."
Remarkably, Allen survived, but on the next play Plunkett called Allen's number again—a sweep that ended six yards behind the line, after Allen made an impromptu lateral to fullback Kenny King. The tone was indeed set. It was going to be one of the Raiders' screw-up days offensively.
L.A.'s rushing game netted 70 yards, 30 of them on a single run by Allen. Two Bronco runners beat that by themselves, Winder (16-for-91) and Willhite (21-for-82). Parros (7-for-45) would've done it, too, if he'd been in longer. Plunkett, coming off a magnificent game against the Chargers, couldn't get much of anything going. Tight end Todd Christensen, one of the best possession receivers in the business, dropped two passes. One side of the field was completely denied to the Raiders—left cornerback Louie Wright's side. The pregame publicity was all about how L.A. cornerbacks Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes had shut out San Diego's James Lofton and Charlie Joiner and held Wes Chandler to two puny catches. But there was only one shutout pitched Sunday and that was by Wright—three passes to wideouts in his area, no completions.
The Denver offense, meanwhile, didn't back off from Haynes's and Hayes's coverage. "Teams have been afraid to challenge them," said Watson, the game's top receiver with six catches for 79 yards. "Clubs seem to go into games figuring, 'Well, we're not going to get anything done over there.' It's a mistake. You've got to challenge them."
On the game's first play Elway challenged Haynes with a 19-yard sideline pass to Butch Johnson. Haynes was out of bump-and-run and playing back. It got tougher for the Broncos after that, although not impossible. Hayes and Haynes tightened up. Collectively they allowed eight completions to Denver wideouts, the most they've given up this season, but the Bronco receivers had to work for what they got. Haynes made the Raider defensive play of the day, swooping in on Johnson to pick off a pass and cut off a second-quarter threat. And Hayes made almost as significant a play in the third quarter when he cut Parros's legs out from under him on the one-yard line and held the Broncos to a field goal.
Afterward Hayes gave Elway very high marks. "The most fascinating thing is that the fear factor no longer exists in John Elway," he said. "Last year his poise quotient was negligible. But today he looked like the second coming of Goose Gossage with that 95-mile-an-hour fastball. I was all over Watson today, and logically, a young quarterback such as Elway shouldn't have the intestinal fortitude to try and throw some of the passes he completed to him. But based on his arm he could throw them. He reminds me of a young Bert Jones."
With a gang of runners behind him and an offensive line to make the whole thing work.