This was exactly how the Oakland Raiders wanted to go to the playoffs.
“It makes a difference when you don’t sneak in the door but you kick the door down,” receiver Tim Brown said after the Raiders beat the New York Jets 31-7 Sunday night to clinch their first playoff appearance since 1993.
“Man, it’s great,” Brown said.
The Raiders (11-3), who last made the playoffs in Oakland in 1980, remained one game ahead of Denver in the AFC West after the Broncos (10-4) beat the Seattle Seahawks earlier Sunday.
Raiders Look Strong
Oakland, which has lost only one game at home this season, scored on Rich Gannon’s passes to Brown and Andre Rison, Tyrone Wheatley’s 1-yard run and Eric Allen’s interception return. Rookie Sebastian Janikowski added a 32-yard field goal with 1:50 left in the game.
The Jets (9-5), who would have clinched a playoff spot with a victory, have to play the waiting game. They remain one game behind Miami in the AFC East after the Dolphins (10-4) lost 16-13 to Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Oakland coach Jon Gruden was hoarse, but it was worth it.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” Gruden said about his first playoff berth as a head coach. “It’s thrilling.”
Vinny Testaverde, who didn’t play in the second half because of a groin injury, could not get the Jets going against the Raiders. He finished 14-of-25 for 149 yards and was intercepted twice.
His backup, Ray Lucas, went 6-of-14 for 99 yards and two interceptions before he was replaced by Chad Pennington, who threw a 5-yard scoring pass to Wayne Chrebet with 24 seconds left in the game.
Curtis Martin, who last week went over 1,000 yards rushing for the sixth straight season, was held to 11 yards.
“The Raiders are very good,” Testaverde said. “They seem to be able to stop the run, the pass, create turnovers and get in great position.”
When Gannon hit Brown with a 4-yard scoring pass early in the fourth quarter, Brown jumped to embrace fans beyond the end zone as Gannon pumped his fist.
Gannon was 11-of-23 for 161 yards and two touchdowns. He was intercepted once.
The Slow Start Game
The Jets finally got going just before the close of the first quarter, when Testaverde completed four straight passes, including a 34-yarder to Chrebet. Martin added a 19-yard run to the Oakland 20.
Oakland linebacker William Thomas picked off a pass meant for Richie Anderson to kill the drive — but the Raiders couldn’t move the ball.
Gannon was just 2-of-8 for 14 yards in the first quarter.
On the Jets’ ensuing drive, Allen intercepted another pass from Testaverde and ran it back 50 yards to put the Raiders up 7-0 to start the second quarter.
Allen and Thomas each had two interceptions.
“We played a great game all the way around,” said Thomas, who has six interceptions this season. “[If] we play like this in the playoffs, we’re going to be in great shape.”
About the only player unhappy with the Raiders’ performance was Gannon, who was concerned about the slow start.
“I felt in the passing game we were a little rough around the edges,” he said.
The passing game came together on Gannon’s 7-yard pass to Rison midway through the second quarter. Rison held the ball up for the rowdy fans in the “Black Hole” in the Raiders’ end zone.
Before halftime, Gannon hit speedy receiver James Jett with a 49-yard pass, and Wheatley polished off the drive with a 1-yard dive.