OAKLAND ? The Raiders? defenders weren?t leaving anything to chance. They had helped craft a nominal lead over the Philadelphia Eagles, and each time they got off the field in the fourth quarter, they gathered together on the sidelines. Not a core of veteran leaders. Not separate huddles of position groups. The entire defense, pressed together like a bunch of high schoolers.
?That?s what we do now. Together as a unit, we come together on the sidelines,? defensive tackle Gerard Warren said.
?(The Giants) hit us with some plays last week, and we just didn?t come together,? linebacker Kirk Morrison said. ?Today, after every series ? because there?s something that happens every series, they gave us a look ? we?d say, ?Hey, be alert for this.? You know, ?They?ve thrown two or three screens on second down and long, let?s be alert to that.? That?s just what we did.?
One week after a 44-7 humiliation at the hands of the New York Giants, with their record at 1-4, their coach nervously awaiting word from the Napa County District Attorney?s Office and their season seemingly ready to careen off the tracks, the Raiders ? 14-point underdogs to the visiting Eagles ? managed to come together for a 13-9 victory.
It was mostly defense that got them there, and the stand was accomplished with a mixture of raw intensity and an uncharacteristically aggressive scheme.
Throughout the week, coach Tom Cable and defensive coordinator John Marshall told their defensive players they had to attack Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb to have a chance. McNabb, shrugging off broken ribs earlier in the season, came into the game with a passer rating of 123.2. But the Raiders never allowed him to get comfortable. Paced by relentless defensive end Richard Seymour, they sacked McNabb six times, their most in a game in four seasons. And not all of the pressure came from the line; Oakland blitzed frequently, usually a no-no for an Al Davis? team.
?They took the leashes off, and it was fun,? middle linebacker Kirk Morrison said.
Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who hardly played after getting poked in the eye by Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson early in the game, is hoping Marshall doesn?t pack away the blitz schemes.
?Maybe he?ll see that it actually works, and we?ll stick on it,? Asomugha said. ?He said that he might get yelled at for it, but he?ll keep it going.?
The Eagles drove inside the Oakland 30-yard line six times, but came away with only three field goals by David Akers, who also missed twice. Over one stretch of the third and fourth quarters, Philadelphia went three-and-out four straight times. The Eagles converted only 2 of 16 third-down plays.
The Raiders? offense, meanwhile, held its own against a blitz-happy defense that most analysts figured would pummel JaMarcus Russell. Philadelphia did pressure the quarterback most of the night, but Russell showed much more poise than he had in three straight losses. An offense that had failed to gain 200 yards in a franchise-worst four straight games chalked up 325.
The last time the Raiders played here, the home crowd booed Russell mercilessly. This time, they booed the offense after its first series, a three-and-out dud, but found little to hate the rest of the afternoon.
?We play for our fans, and you know they?re going to be tough on us and rightfully so,? said running back Justin Fargas, who had 87 yards on 23 carries. ?They deserve to see us out there fighting, and I think they respected our effort today.?