Grin and Barret
Raiders fall without All-Pro starting center RobbinsPosted: Sunday January 26, 2003 11:45 PM
Updated: Tuesday January 28, 2003 1:45 AM
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Since Barret Robbins was one of the Oakland Raiders' five Pro Bowl selections, his name was flashed on the scoreboard and shouted over the sound system during several timeouts at the Super Bowl.
But Robbins wasn't in uniform Sunday -- and the All-Pro center's curious absence helped expose several other holes in the NFL's best offense at the worst possible time.
From the overmatched line's terrible performance to their nonexistent running game to Rich Gannon's dismal day, the Raiders were humbled by the Buccaneers' league-best defense in Tampa Bay's 48-21 victory.
Robbins, the gritty veteran heart of the Raiders' line, spent Sunday in a local hospital after mysteriously leaving his teammates on their final day of preparation for the Super Bowl.
"Offensively, we didn't get it done, and it starts up front," left tackle Barry Sims said. "It doesn't help to have a Pro Bowler missing. We need all our guys, especially at the pinnacle of the sport in the biggest game of our lives."
The Raiders wouldn't say where Robbins went on Saturday or why, but the first-time Pro Bowl selection wasn't around to battle the Buccaneers' punishing defense at the culmination of his most successful season.
Many of the Raiders apparently didn't know the reason for Robbins' absence from their Saturday activities. Several other players declined comment, while head coach Bill Callahan wouldn't discuss specifics.
"If somebody chooses to do something wrong, nobody can tell them what to do," guard Frank Middleton said. "We have to go with the guys who want to be here. ... My concern is not B-Robb. He's safe, and he paid the price for what he did. I haven't talked to him, and I don't know if I'm going to talk to him."
The Raiders were out of sorts from their first possession, and Robbins' predicament undoubtedly was a factor in their mental preparation. Robbins' teammates had known he wouldn't play since Saturday afternoon, shortly before he missed their final team meeting.
"There was no distraction, because I eliminated it," Callahan insisted. "Where he's at, and what's transpired since [Saturday], I can't say."
Gannon, the Raiders' MVP quarterback playing in his first Super Bowl after 15 NFL seasons, didn't mishandle any snaps from Robbins' replacement, Adam Treu, but almost everything else was a problem for the league's most prolific quarterback.
He went 24-for-44 for 272 yards with a Super Bowl-record five interceptions -- after throwing just 11 interceptions in his first 18 games this season. Gannon hadn't thrown more than two interceptions in any game during the past two years; what's more, he was sacked five times and constantly hurried by Tampa Bay's pass rush.
"All the guys stuck together, but we didn't see it coming," said Treu, who found out Saturday afternoon that he would start.
The Buccaneers' two-deep zone kept the Raiders' talented receivers from getting the space in which they often turned short catches into long gains this season.
The Raiders' offensive troubles were obvious from their opening drive. Oakland got excellent field position thanks to Charles Woodson's interception, but Tampa Bay's Simeon Rice roared past Sims for a third-down sack that forced the Raiders to kick a field goal. Rice beat Sims several more times, while Warren Sapp kept constant pressure on Treu and the middle of the Raiders' line.
The Raiders averaged 390 yards per game in the regular season. They had 72 midway through the third quarter, when Tampa Bay retreated to a three-man pass rush and allowed Gannon a moment to breathe in the pocket. The quarterback immediately drove Oakland to its first touchdown.
But moments earlier, when Dwight Smith intercepted Gannon and ran 44 yards for a score, the Raiders' chances for a fourth Super Bowl title had essentially vanished. Gannon threw that pass to Jerry Rice in double coverage -- typical of the poor decisions he made all day.
Rice, the 1989 Super Bowl MVP playing in his fourth title game, didn't make a catch until 3:30 remained in the third quarter. Rice still set a playoff record with his 22nd touchdown on a catch midway through the fourth.
"Obviously it didn't help our cause," Gannon said of Robbins' absence, "but I don't know if it would have made any difference."