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American Football: Gannon optimistic after Raiders rout Rams

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posted on Sep, 3 2004 @ 08:40 AM
Rich Gannon had a gut feeling last preseason that things would turn sour in a hurry, and he was right.

There are a lot more positive vibes surrounding the Oakland Raiders this year.

Gannon made his one offensive series count, throwing his first touchdown pass of the preseason in the Raiders' final exhibition game, a 28-24 win over the St. Louis Rams on Thursday night.

The 38-year-old Gannon connected with Justin Fargas for a 5-yard TD on the Raiders' 13-play, 77-yard opening drive. Gannon artfully scrambled in each direction and got away when grabbed by defensive tackle Damione Lewis.

"I was frustrated with a lot of things last year in the preseason," Gannon said. "A lot of people thought I was crazy. It's not like I was looking in a crystal ball. There's a renewed sense of enthusiasm."

Raiders coach Norv Turner made a gutsy decision in the final minute.

Oakland went for it on fourth-and-four from the 10 with 43 seconds left, and third-string quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo hit Alvis Whitted for his second TD reception of the game.

"You've got to take your hat off to Norv - he's going to make some aggressive calls," Whitted said.

Third-string St. Louis quarterback Jeff Smoker led two second-half touchdown drives, but the Rams couldn't hold their leads. Lamar Gordon's 2-yard run with 8:57 remaining put the Rams ahead 24-21. Smoker threw a 3-yard TD pass to Cameron Cleeland with 7:53 left in the third, then Cleeland later left with a sprained left ankle.

Rams coach Mike Martz said he thought his team trailed by only three points in the waning seconds, so he called for a sideline pattern with 9 seconds left to set up a field goal, instead of going for the end zone on the next-to-last play of the game.

"I can't believe I was yelling for a field goal," he said. "That was the dumbest thing I've ever done as a football coach."

Martz thought he saw Oakland bobble the ball on the point after and thought the Raiders missed it.

"Smoker yelled at me, 'Hey, coach, we're down by four!"' Martz said. "Can you imagine Jeff Smoker telling me what the score was?"

Gannon, the 2002 league MVP, had led Oakland into the end zone only once in eight previous offensive series, but hadn't thrown for a score. His backup, Kerry Collins, meanwhile, had passed for three touchdowns and directed four TD drives in only eight possessions in the first three games.

Gannon was 5-for-8 for 45 yards, with his longest completion a 15-yarder to Ronald Curry. Gannon had shoulder surgery in November but is coming off the most productive offseason of his 17-year career.

He is fit and ready for another big season.

Collins wanted more chances this week, but was in for just two series. Some believed Collins might beat out Gannon sometime this season, but Turner has never wavered that Gannon is the No. 1 guy.

Collins was sacked during his first series, then connected on a 60-yard touchdown pass to Whitted in the second quarter - though the play was defined more by Whitted's impressive 40-yard run after the catch than it was Collins' strong arm.

Collins was 5-for-5 for 88 yards.

The 31-year-old Collins led the Giants to a Super Bowl appearance in 2001, but was cut this April 28, four days after New York acquired No. 1 draft pick Eli Manning.

Oakland, which finished a dismal 4-12 last season just a year after reaching the Super Bowl, completed a 3-1 preseason. The Raiders' lone exhibition win last season came against the Rams.

St. Louis is 2-10 in the preseason the past three years.

The Rams' first-team offense had scored only one touchdown in their first three exhibition games, but they didn't waste any time in this game.

Quarterback Marc Bulger hit Cleeland for a 46-yard gain on St. Louis' first possession, setting up first-and-goal from the 9. Bulger threw a 7-yard TD pass to Marshall Faulk two plays later.

Raiders' strong safety Derrick Gibson was hurt on Cleeland's catch when he made contact with the tight end trying to tackle him. Gibson was helped off the field and went into the locker room with 6:34 remaining in the first quarter with a dislocated right shoulder. His status for the season opener Sept. 12 at Pittsburgh was unclear.

Faulk carried four times for 11 yards, but had two catches for 20 yards.

Cody Spencer deflected a pass by Smoker in the third quarter and Tim Johnson made the interception for the Raiders. It led to rookie Johnnie Morant's 10-yard touchdown reception from Tuiasosopo with 14:15 left.

Johnson also intercepted a desperation pass by Smoker in the end zone as the clock expired.

Oakland cornerback Phillip Buchanon was in street clothes because of leg soreness and stood along the sideline with Charles Woodson, a four-time Pro Bowler who signed a one-year tender Tuesday to end his 33-day training camp holdout.

The Rams were still without holdout three-time All-Pro left tackle Orlando Pace. Pace, like Woodson, is represented by agent Carl Poston.


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