SI Vault
Paul Zimmerman
January 05, 1981
The Oakland Raiders staged a not-so-welcome-home party for Kenny Stabler, sacking their old quarterback seven times while routing the Houston Oilers 27-7
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January 05, 1981

Sad Sacks At The Homecoming

The Oakland Raiders staged a not-so-welcome-home party for Kenny Stabler, sacking their old quarterback seven times while routing the Houston Oilers 27-7

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The Oiler offensive line averages 277 pounds tackle to tackle, and 263 pounds when you line it up, seven across, with the two tight ends. It may be the heftiest in history, but it isn't mobile, and it doesn't adjust well to the unusual. The Raiders outflanked the Oilers' line with their darting blitzers, and it was like watching a bear trying to catch a wasp.

"They never made the kind of adjustment another team would've made," Hayes said. "They didn't make the moves needed to combat what we were doing. There was no change of venue, no tomfoolery. They just stayed with that brute strength concept."

The Oilers have no offensive coordinator. Their attack is a three-man creation; three assistants, Andy Bourgeois, King Hill and Joe Bugel, draw it up and Bum Phillips has final approval. When the game was over Phillips sadly noted, "We were outcoached. They did things and we didn't have the adjustments."

Hendricks said the Raiders had a good read on Campbell, who carried 27 times but gained more than six yards only once. "When he leans all the way forward, you know he's going to carry the ball," Hendricks said. And they had a good read on Stabler, too. Three of the four sacks by Hayes and Davis came on first down, the other on second; in fact, only one of the seven sacks came on third down, the traditional sacking down. Six of those sacks killed a series.

After the game Stabler sat in a corner of the little auxiliary dressing room, slowly peeling off his equipment. He shook his head sadly when people asked him what had happened. He hadn't taken a particularly ferocious beating. The Raiders treated their ex-teammate almost gently, and even when Hayes and Davis got him on blindside shots that could have taken his ribs apart, they chose to jump on his back rather than stick him. The toughest hit Stabler took was when Matuszak, his former roommate, jumped offside and bowled him over.

"He said to me, 'I believe you're offside, Tooz,' " Matuszak said, "and I said, 'I believe you're right, pardner.' "

"We made some mental mistakes, we made some physical mistakes," Stabler said. "Sometimes we had the wrong protection called. I can't call this game a personal thing because I didn't play well enough to win. I know they're playing better defense than they used to."

Even with all those sacks, though, even with an offense that scored on only one of 16 possessions (one drive ended in a 45-yard field-goal attempt that hit the crossbar, another with a 37-yarder that was blocked and still another with a Hayes interception in the end zone), the Oilers were very much in the hunt as the third quarter drew to a close. Oakland led 10-7, but now the Raiders were backed up on the one-yard line following Hayes' interception. A safety was a very real possibility. Apart from Chris Bahr's 47-yard field goal, the Oakland offense had consisted of exactly two plays, a 37-yard Jim Plunkett pass to ex-Oiler Kenny King that set a second-quarter touchdown, and the TD itself, Plunkett's one-yard corner pass to Todd Christensen, who was in as a third tight end in the goal-line offense. Oakland's total offense to that point was 88 yards; its offense in the second half was a minus two.

Plunkett was having trouble homing in on his targets, and the Raiders couldn't run the ball, but now they buckled up and punched it out to the 28, where the drive died on two very bad misfires. As the offense left the field, Plunkett's passing stats read five for 18, and the Raider fans were treating him to some heavy booing. The next Oiler possession ended with a sack, and then Plunkett caught fire. "I don't know what was wrong with me," he said. "I've had spells like that when I couldn't hit a thing, but in this offense you keep throwing long. You don't worry about high percentages, you keep waiting for the big one, and sooner or later you're going to get it."

Plunkett got two in a row: a 33-yarder to Cliff Branch, flying down the right side, his only catch of the day, and then a 44-yard TD to Arthur Whittington, flying right, after a very skillful play-action fake. A field goal gave the Raiders a 13-point cushion—20-7—and with 5:29 left Hayes wrote finis with a 20-yard interception for a TD, picking off a sideline pass intended for Mike Renfro. Stabler's strength is over the middle, crossing patterns, hooks, curls, posts. He's at his worst when he has to gun it for the sideline, and Hayes said the pass to Renfro "looked like a moon shot. It was just beautiful the way it hung up there. It was as pretty as Hollywood Park. So beautiful, such a softly thrown pass."

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