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High-scoring Raiders only undefeated NFL team

Janie McCauley The Associated Press
Tuesday October 08, 2002

ALAMEDA – The Oakland Raiders are piling up points, as if they’re simply daring other teams to try to keep up. 

All this without offensive genius Jon Gruden calling the shots. 

With a cast of old-timers and their former rising-star coach gone to Tampa Bay, the Raiders are the only undefeated team left in the NFL. 

And if everything goes as planned at winless St. Louis, Oakland will be 5-0 on Sunday, the day Jerry Rice celebrates his 40th birthday. 

“It’s beautiful,” tight end Roland Williams said. “When you see an offense work and execute and score points, it’s a beautiful thing. We’re still looking for that Utopia, which is scoring every time we touch the ball. 

“We still have to get better. But God bless the Raiders. We’re entertaining people, we have hardworking guys and Hall of Famers who are doing unbelievable things.” 

One thing to consider, though: The Raiders haven’t played an AFC West opponent, and the teams they have beaten are a combined 5-13. 

Still, it’s hard to argue with Oakland’s impressive numbers. The Raiders have the NFL’s top offense, averaging 461.5 yards per game, and they are outscoring opponents 162-90. 

Quarterback Rich Gannon has three of the top seven passing games in the league this season — his 403-yard day at Pittsburgh on Sept. 15 ranks fourth behind two performances by Buffalo’s Drew Bledsoe and one by Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady of New England. 

Aside from the big stats, they’re first in first downs per game and third-down efficiency. They lead in punt-return average and they’re plus-7 in turnovers, another NFL best. 

They’re second in yards per play, first in points per game. 

Had enough yet? First-year coach Bill Callahan hasn’t. 

“I’m just realistic,” he said. “Being in this league for eight years, I’ve seen teams go up and down, start fast, start slow. I just temper it right now. I’m just at the point I want our team to understand we have a lot of work to do. 

“If we continue to prepare hard, work hard and do the things we’re capable of doing, I think success takes care of itself.” 

Under Callahan, this team already looks a lot more like the Raiders of old. He has opened up the playbook and is anything but predictable — a stark difference from the conservative Gruden. 

Most of the Raiders have never seen such offensive volume in their careers, and this is an old group. Rice will be 40, Rod Woodson is 37 and Gannon, Tim Brown and Bill Romanowski are 36. 

The successful start surely has owner Al Davis smiling; he’s in love with the long pass and strong-armed quarterbacks who can heave a football halfway down the field, or even further. Gruden went away from that during his tenure. 

Callahan insists it’s much too early to be thinking Super Bowl in the Bay area. 

For one thing, the Raiders are as beat up as they’ve been all season. Callahan listed 11 injured players Monday, seven of whom were hurt in Sunday’s 49-31 win at Buffalo. Many are questionable for this weekend’s game against the Rams (0-5). The injuries range from turf toe, to groin strains to knee sprains. That has Callahan shuffling his lineup and even considering adding players to the roster. 

Then, there’s the issue of kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who’s in trouble with the law yet again. Janikowski was charged with driving under the influence after he was stopped for speeding in Oakland early Wednesday and failed a sobriety test. 

With all that, center Adam Treu believes the Raiders will get past it all. 

“I have no answers,” he said. “This is the big league so to speak. Guys here have to prepare and take personal accountability to play up to standards. We’re definitely lucky and blessed to have the capable backups we have.” 

The Raiders are taking a cautious approach to their fast start. Last year, they went 4-5 after winning six of their first seven games. 

“It is a concern because last year we didn’t finish as strong down the stretch,” said Callahan, the offensive coordinator under Gruden. “Looking at the schedule and the divisional matchups we face late in the year, it’s going to be key that we play very hard and that we’re fresh for that run.”