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Oakland 28, Denver 16

Dec. 23, 2002 at 12:12 AM   |   Comments

OAKLAND, Calif., Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Rich Gannon broke the NFL's single-season completion record Sunday and the Oakland Raiders held off a second-half comeback to clinch its third straight AFC West title with a 28-16 victory over the Denver Broncos.

The Raiders (10-5) last won three consecutive division titles from 1972-76, when they captured four in a row under Coach John Madden. Oakland won the AFC West in 2000 and 2001 under Jon Gruden and did not skip a beat under rookie Coach Bill Callahan.

"My hat goes off to the coaching staff," Callahan said. "(Coordinator) Chuck Bresnahan did a great job with the defense and (coordinator) Marc Trestman had great gameplans for the offense. Today, Chuck attacked them and we were all over the quarterback and Marc called an excellent game."

The Raiders can clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win over Kansas City on Saturday.

Denver (8-7), which won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998, is still alive in the wild card race and hosts Arizona next week.

"We're down right now," said Broncos star tight end Shannon Sharpe. "We'll see what we're made of next week, whether we have something to play for or not. We'll see if we've got some guys who want to jump on the bus."

The Raiders rolled to a 34-10 rout at Denver on Nov. 11, starting a streak of six wins in seven games.

On Sunday, Oakland raced to a 21-0 lead, capitalizing on interceptions by defensive end Trace Armstrong and safety Rod Woodson in Denver territory.

While Denver quarterback Brian Griese struggled before leaving with a left knee injury, Gannon scored on a two-yard run and hit running back Charlie Garner with an eight-yard touchdown.

Gannon, who set an NFL single-season record with 10 300-yard games and was elected to the Pro Bowl for the third straight year, broke Warren Moon's record of 404 completions set in 1991 with the Houston Oilers. Needing 12 completions to break the record, Gannon eclipsed Moon's mark in the second quarter and finished 18 of 27 for 201 yards.

He has thrown for a league-high 4,610 yards.

"I played with some of the best quarterbacks to play the game and Rich is right up there with him," Raiders receiver Jerry Rice said of Gannon.

Fullback Zach Crockett added a pair of one-yard touchdown runs for the Raiders.

Steve Beuerlein replaced Griese in the second quarter and engineered three scoring drives to pull the Broncos within 21-16.

Linebacker Bill Romanowski again made a major impact against his former team. Last month, he made the tackle that caused Sharpe to dislocate his left elbow. This time, he knocked Griese out of the game with a sack in the second quarter.

"I didn't mean to hurt him, but I did want to put my hat on him," said Romanowski, who played for six years in Denver before signing with the Raiders last March.

"I tell you what, I'm glad he's on our team now," Gannon said of Romanowski. "You talk about additions to your football team, that's one particularly that has really helped. He brings so much to the table. Not just his performance on the field but his presence in the locker room and the way he is with young players."

Steve Beuerlein replaced Griese in the second quarter and engineered three scoring drives to pull the Broncos within 21-16.

But Crockett rushed for his second one-yard touchdown with 6:58 left to thwart the rally.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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