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Raiders deck Tennessee as Buchanan impresses

Janie McCauley The Associated Press
Monday September 30, 2002

OAKLAND – It took fewer than four minutes for rookie Phillip Buchanon to show he’s ready to be an NFL starter – perhaps at three positions. 

Buchanon had an interception on the first play of the game that was overturned by an instant replay challenge. But he scored on a punt return and handed off on another punt returned for a touchdown as the Oakland Raiders routed the Tennessee Titans 52-25 Sunday. 

Buchanon, a cornerback by trade, got an interception that counted in the fourth quarter, leading to the Raiders’ final score. He also finished with seven solo tackles. 

Oakland (3-0) has looked versatile, too. Its first win of the season came behind the running game, the second on a superb passing performance by Rich Gannon, and this one was highlighted by stellar special teams. 

Rod Woodson had three interceptions, including one he returned 82 yards for a touchdown, making him the NFL’s career leader in interception return yardage with 1,339. 

Gannon was 29-of-39 for 381 yards and four touchdowns, and Jerry Rice had seven catches for 144 yards and a touchdown. Rice became the NFL’s career leader in yards from scrimmage, passing Walter Payton. 

The Raiders, coming off their bye week, beat Tennessee (1-3) for the first time since the Raiders were in Los Angeles and the Titans were the Houston Oilers, in 1994. 

Titans quarterback Steve McNair finished 33-for-47 for a career-high 398 yards and two touchdowns, but threw four interceptions. He completed a 49-yard TD pass to Justin McCareins with 11:39 remaining that the Raiders challenged, arguing the ball hit the ground, but the TD stood. 

Buchanon, the team’s top draft pick out of national champion Miami, was promoted to starter at left cornerback Wednesday to replace Pro Bowler Charles Woodson, who has a broken right shoulder. 

He had some college friends in the Coliseum stands for his debut on defense – and he had a big day, just as he did when filling in for an injured starter as a sophomore for the Hurricanes. In that game, he made 10 solo tackles and four pass deflections against Florida State. 

Buchanon with the Titans going right at him early, picked off McNair’s pass on the first play, but officials reversed the call, saying he did not have possession. The Titans got the ball back, and after a false start penalty, Woodson intercepted and scrambled 18 yards to the Titans 17. Gannon then hit Charlie Garner on a 17-yard TD pass with only 21 seconds elapsed. 

Gannon was impressive again, two weeks after throwing 64 passes and finishing with 403 yards in a win at Pittsburgh. 

Buchanon returned a Tennessee punt 83 yards for a 14-0 lead later in the period. When Tennessee punted again, Buchanon caught the ball and handed it to Terry Kirby, who ran 79 yards to the end zone. 

Titans star Eddie George, who’s been playing with a tender left foot, missed most of Tennessee’s first scoring drive, but came back in to score on a 1-yard run. He finished with just 26 yards on 11 carries. 

George has had two of the best games of his career against Oakland, but this wasn’t one of them. The Raiders’ revamped defense, featuring 10 new starters now that Charles Woodson is out, kept pressure on McNair most of the day.