Whether a team is fighting for a playoff spot or is mathematically eliminated, there generally seems to be one play that seems to alter the course of a team’s season.
In Week 2 of the 1997 season, Elvis Grbac’s touchdown pass to Andre Rison in the waning seconds lifted Kansas City to a 28-27 win over the Raiders. The loss sent Oakland into a downward spiral that led to a terrible 4-12 season while Kansas City went on to a 13-3 campaign and an AFC West title.
Fast forward five years and seven weeks later. The Raiders have a 4-4 record and a four game losing streak heading into a Monday night game at Denver (6-2), where they had not won since 1994. If Oakland loses, its realistic playoff hopes are doomed but a win can at least begin to entertain thoughts of turning the AFC West race into a jumpball.
The game starts out roughly like the previous four Raider games, all losses. Move the ball down the field on the opening drive. Get a few yards here and a few yards there only to have the drive bog down and end with a Sebastian Janikowski field goal.
On the ensuing drive, Denver went to its ground game led by rookie running back Clinton Portis, a virtual lock to become NFL Rookie of the Year with 1,228 rushing yards. Portis helped Denver create a second-and-goal at the Oakland 4-yard line. Bronco quarterback Brian Griese tried to hit Portis over the middle but free safety Rod Woodson intercepted the pass and returned it 98-yards to paydirt to give Oakland a 10-0 lead to lead to a 34-10 Raider blowout over Denver.
That play proved to be the difference in potentially a seesaw game and an Raider blowout. That win started a five-game winning streak for Oakland and a stretch of four losses in five games for Denver.
The two teams meet Sunday at Network Associates Coliseum with the Oakland now leading the AFC West with a 9-5 record followed by Denver and San Diego, both 8-6. The Raiders can clinch the division with a win over Denver and a Kansas City win over San Diego.
Vince D’Adamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org