Ever the rebellious sorts, the Los Angeles Raiders rarely do things the easy way.
Today, they defeated the Denver Broncos, 17-14, in overtime when Chris Bahr kicked a 26-yard field goal in a gently falling snow, sending 75,042 home from Mile High Stadium to ponder second place.
The Raiders (10-4) rebelled today against textbook football. They had to dig through the horrors of quarterback Marc Wilson's four interceptions, through all-pro tight end Todd Christensen's two dropped passes that might have been of surpreme importance and through a 14-0 halftime deficit, before they found the gold they sought.
In this case, gold came in the form of Howie Long's sack of Denver quarterback John Elway, who fumbled at the Denver nine, where Long's fellow defensive end Greg Townsend recovered.
On the next play, Bahr nailed his game-winner with 10:05 left in overtime. Up in the press box, Al Davis, the Raiders' managing general partner, shot a fist to the sky.
The Raiders were alone in first place in the AFC West. The Broncos, meanwhile, were 9-5 and left to hope that either the Raiders or one of the three 10-4 teams in the AFC East (New England, Miami and the Jets) might stumble over the next two weeks. And even if Denver should retie the Raiders, Los Angeles would have playoff priority by virtue of its 2-0 record against the Broncos.
Cornerback Lester Hayes of the Raiders said, "The 64,000 deceased presidents was the focal point for us. That's Super Bowl money, of course . . . The most important factor is the home field advantage because the Smogmonster in December in L.A. is like having a 12th man."
Once again, running back Marcus Allen was the Bronco-slayer, rushing for 135 yards on 25 carries, his seventh consecutive 100-yard game. Allen, the Southern Californian who said he never played in snow before, dashed off 173 yards in a 31-28 overtime win over Denver two weeks ago.
"We threw the hype out the door before this one," said Allen. "We knew this was the game."
In case you've missed Elway's first 2 1/2 pro seasons, today's game was the microcosm: Elway is the guy who throws 12 passes per game that are so good your jaw drops and six passes that are so inadequate your jaw drops. What gives?
Elway torched the Raiders on two first-half scoring drives. He led Denver on a monstrous 16-play, 77-yard, 10-minute scoring drive, finishing with a five-yard touchdown pass to tight end James Wright.
Elway throws the ball with great velocity. Hayes says, "I call him John Goose Gooden, because he throws a 105-mile per hour slider that you need Johnny Bench's catcher's mitt to catch."
Elway continued to slash the Raiders on third-and-long plays in the half, even when Long and his defensive mates came bearing in on him. Elway led the Broncos 71 yards in nine plays to running back Sammy Winder's one-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 30 seconds left in the half.
The Broncos caught a big break seconds later when Wilson fumbled a snap and defensive end Rulon Jones recovered on the Raiders' 13 with 23 seconds left. But Rich Karlis missed wide left on a 35-yard field goal try as the half expired. Costly, indeed.
The Raiders, meanwhile, were awful in the first half. Wilson had completed just four of 11 passes and Christensen, who had beaten safety Dennis Smith on a 40-yard route, dropped at the Denver 40 what would have been a certain 80-yard scoring pass.
The Raiders had a Gipperesque halftime talk. Long said, "Some offensive guys got on each other with what we call constructive criticism. You'd call it a zoo."
In a matter of 10 minutes, the game was tied at 14.
The Raiders drove 46 yards to Wilson's three-yard scoring pass to Christensen, making it 14-7 with 8:31 left in the quarter. A 15-yard face-mask penalty against defensive end Jones made matters easier.
The Raiders defense then forced Elway into panic. With Long's sights set on the quarterback, Elway heaved a short, hurried pass over the middle that cornerback Mike Haynes (two interceptions) intercepted at the Raiders' 46.
Once again, the Los Angeles offense, with Allen making nifty reverse-field runs, was end-zone bound. Another face-mask penalty (against safety Randy Robbins) helped. Allen ran over right guard and went 15 yards, untouched, for the 14-14 touchdown.
The Denver defense picked Wilson clean for much of the day. Safety Smith had three of the four interceptions.
Yet the Raiders seemed to have the game won near the end of regulation when the snow first began to fall. They had driven 55 yards in seven plays, but when Wilson threw into the left flat for Allen, Smith intercepted at the 14. Mile High Stadium went two miles high into euphoria. The Raiders were aghast.
"I should have thrown it out of bounds," said Wilson.
The game budged into overtime, Denver's fourth visit to OT this season (one shy of the league record) and third in its last three games with the Raiders. Again, the Raiders seemed to have victory assured when Wilson, on third-and-eight from the Denver 45, threw a perfect 20-yard pass to Christensen. He dropped it at the 25.
Several dropped passes sabotaged Elway in overtime. When Raiders Coach Tom Flores opted to punt on fourth and two from the Denver 35 (he chose not to let Bahr attempt a 52-yard field goal), Ray Guy's punt went into the end zone.
And Elway was one hike from doom. Long said, "We came with a 30-Pirate defense with four linemen, with Greg Townsend lined up wide and I was over the head of the center (Billy Bryan). It was one of the few times I got to rush against only one guy . . . (Elway) just stepped up into me."
Elway said, "They were coming as fast I was backing up. I was trying to get a grip on it to throw it and the next thing I knew someone just nailed the ball."