Vilma hopes to ring in the New Year with a playoff berth
The 2006 Oakland Raiders have been called many things this season, some kinder than others. However, they shouldn't be labeled pushovers. Even though the 2-13 Raiders don't sport a flashy record, they have the ability to spoil one of the most inspiring Jets' tales in Green & White history.
"Nobody is going to give a game to us," said veteran defensive lineman Bobby Hamilton. "This team has grown enough to know what the situation is and what we're going into. If you're skipping the Oakland Raiders than there's something wrong with you."
Head coach Eric Mangini and company have the opportunity to land in the playoffs with seemingly nothing more standing in their path than a team that has gone winless from Halloween to Christmas. But the Jets aren't thinking about lighting up a victory cigar. Playing the spoiler is always one of the sweetest forms of redemption a team can play and the Raiders have what it takes to do just that.
"Being able to ruin somebody else's New Year's or Christmas or Hanukkah or whatever the case may be, there's some pleasure in that," Mangini said Wednesday.
In 2000, when Mangini was a defensive backs coach with the New England Patriots, his club was 4-11 heading into their final showdown of the season. Eliminated from playoff contention, the Pats wanted to keep the Dolphins out of the postseason as well.
"We were playing in Miami, and Miami had to win to get in," he said. "Nothing would have made us happier than beating them that day, and we fought and we competed throughout the whole game. It's one of those things where you know you're not going to be playing competitive football for a little while, so this is your opportunity to finish that out."
Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, a defensive co-captain, sees similarities between the Raiders and the Jets' previous opponent.
"They remind me of Miami where they are the sleeper team," said Vilma, the team's leading tackler with 109 stops. "They don't want us to go to the playoffs because they aren't going to the playoffs. We know they are going to be motivated when they come in here, and they are going to try to knock us out."
"We're not looking at the playoffs; the only thing we're looking towards is the Oakland Raiders," said Hamilton, who spent his previous two seasons in Oakland. "We can't worry about what people say about us and what situation we're in - we know what we have to do. We have to handle the Oakland Raiders, and that's the only thing we have on our mind right now."
A win would give the Raiders their third victory of the season before preparing for next spring's draft. Oakland could control the board come late April, and the Silver & Black figure to use their first round selection on a top-notch quarterback or another offensive playmaker. Defensively, the Raiders have played very competitive ball throughout this disappointing campaign.
The Raider pass defense is ranked number one in the NFL, surrendering just 153.3 yards per game. Nnamdi Asomugha, a fourth-year corner, is second in the league in interceptions with eight, one of which he returned 24 yards for a touchdown in the Raiders' win over defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh in October.
"In terms of Oakland, they are very good defensively, very opportunistic," Mangini said. "I worked with (defensive coordinator) Rob Ryan for four years in New England. What I've always respected about Rob is how innovative he is, how well he adjusts to things, and how good he is at honing in on tendencies. He does an excellent job, and I have nothing but respect for him. You can see that in the way that players have played for him."
Led by defensive end Derrick Burgess, the Raider line has applied consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Burgess leads the team with 11 sacks while Pro Bowl nose tackle Warren Sapp has had a tremendous comeback year with nine sacks of his own. The Ryan-orchestrated defense will end the season with three players collecting at least 100 tackles: ILB Kirk Morrison (120), OLB Thomas Howard (99), and S Stuart Schweigert (98).
"Those guys are in most games if not every game; it's right on the film," said veteran guard Pete Kendall said. "There has been some disparity in scoring in the fourth quarter. That defense plays with a lot of energy and they play with a lot of pride. They're good at what they do. There is no thought that these guys are going to fold their tents early."
"They fly around on defense and have a lot of playmakers," added wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. "When you give them opportunities or fall into mistakes, they'll put you in a hole. Those guys take advantage of every opportunity you give them. We're going to have to protect the ball and do a lot of things well offensively to pull out a victory."
While the Raiders defense is clearly one of the best in the game, their offense has primarily been the Achilles heel in '06. They have averaged just 248.7 yards per outing and have failed to score at least ten points in six games including three shutout losses. Three quarterbacks have combined to thrown just seven touchdowns against 23 interceptions for a 56.2 quarterback rating. Regardless of an inconsistent offense, the Raiders will be up on Sunday morning with one thought in mind.
"I'm a fighter. I'm not going to quit," Raiders head coach Art Shell said this week. "I'm going to push my way through this. It's not easy. I don't like to lose. Nobody around here likes to lose."
Wednesday Injury Report
Jets Questionable: FB B.J. Askew (foot), RB Kevan Barlow (thigh), CB David Barrett (hip), WR Laveranues Coles (head/jaw), CB Andre Dyson (knee), FB James Hodgins (knee), RB Cedric Houston (calf), S Kerry Rhodes (knee) & DB Eric Smith (foot)
Probable: *LB Matt Chatham (foot), *G Brandon Moore (back), *DL Rashad Moore (hand), *QB Chad Pennington (calf), *QB Patrick Ramsey (calf) & *DE Bryan Thomas (shoulder)
Raiders Out: RB LaMont Jordan (knee) & WR Jerry Porter (hip)
Questionable: *QB Aaron Brooks (neck), RB Zack Crockett (heel) & WR Randy Moss (ankle)
Probable: *G Kevin Boothe (elbow), *T Robert Gallery (neck), *G Corey Hulsey (knee) & *CB Fabian Washington (shoulder)
*Denotes players who practiced