Last Updated on January 17, 2003 by Paulette Brown-Hinds
By Tim Polzer
Courtesy of NFL Insider
The vultures have been circling Oakland’s supposedly lame defensive secondary all season.
But when the AFC’s best passer tried to take advantage in the Divisional Playoffs, the Raiders’ defensive backs proved an injured dog is more than capable of biting back.
Tested by injuries throughout the season, and held together by various metals rather than duct tape, the Raiders’ secondary pulled together to fool AFC passing leader Chad Pennington and laid out some punishment along the way — at least from the second play on.
The group got off to a bad start when Jets receiver Wayne Chrebet knocked safety and leader Rod Woodson flat with a crack-back block on the first play from scrimmage.
If Chrebet’s hit on Woodson was meant to set a tone, it eventually backfired on the Jets. Woodson returned after one play, but the Jets receivers took a licking the rest of the game.
“You look at this team and we had our two starting cornerbacks coming off surgery.
That’s will,” Rod Woodson said. “We got guys playing through pain and playing through injuries. We got Tory James and [Charles Woodson] coming off injuries. I’ll take those guys at eighty-five percent over just about anybody.” Survivors.
Proof is found in the loss of Charles Woodson for eight regular-season games, James’ recovery from a cracked fibula and the early loss of rookie corner Philip Buchanon. Week in and week out, the only sure thing in the Oakland secondary has been the 16-year veteran safety Woodson.
While the world watched to see if Charles Woodson and James could play anywhere close to 100 percent with steel plates holding their recovering fibulas together, the cornerbacks stayed stride for stride with Jets receivers. James intercepted a pass and Charles Woodson had a pair of near-pickoffs.
James deflected a certain touchdown pass to Laveranues Coles and Woodson doled out retribution with two hard hits on Chrebet.
“We don’t listen to all those people talking about us,” Charles Woodson said. “We just go out there and do it.”
Limiting Pennington, the NFL’s most accurate passer, to 21 completions in 47 attempts might be enough to delete the Raiders’ secondary from next week’s list of possible Oakland weaknesses when they play host to Tennessee in the AFC Championship Game.
“You talk about gritty performances,” Oakland coach Bill Callahan said. “We had both of our plate men in there and they played tough. That’s what we call [Charles] Woodson and [Tory] James. Our plate men came through for us. I thought they rose up to the challenge.”