LOOKING AHEAD: NEW YORK JETS AT OAKLAND RAIDERS

Jets get familiar foe in Raiders


Published: Monday, January 6, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 5, 2003 at 11:27 p.m.

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. - The Black Hole is beginning to feel like home for the New York Jets.

And well it should. They are headed to the Oakland Coliseum, with its outrageous fans and AFC powerhouse team, the Raiders, for the fourth time in 20 games.

That was made certain Sunday when the Pittsburgh Steelers rallied to beat the Cleveland Browns in a wild-card game. The Jets, who routed Indianapolis 41-0 on Saturday and are one of the NFL's hottest teams, head west for Sunday's matchup with another very hot club.

``It's unbelievable to think we have to go play them again next year out there, too, it is laughable,'' coach Herman Edwards said Sunday. That will make five straight regular-season trips to Oakland for the Jets.

``When we pull up to that place, the people know all the (Jets) players' names. It's the fourth time in a year, that is amazing.

``The guy at the coffee place, Starbucks, he'll have my table ready when I go over there on Saturday. They know we are coming.''

Not that Edwards thinks his team will be intimidated by the venue. The Jets lost 26-20 there in a Monday night game on Dec. 2. They also lost in the first-round of last season's playoffs at Oakland 38-24, one week after edging the Raiders 24-22 in the 2001 season finale to secure a playoff berth.

New York (10-7) has played relatively well at Oakland, and with what the Jets have gone through in rallying from 1-4 and 2-5 this season, it's unlikely they will be overwhelmed by any challenge.

``The thing I like about this team is the tougher the situation, it is like, `OK,''' Edwards said. ``It puts us in that kind of mindset and that is a good mindset.''

Edwards believes the Jets are a better team, particularly on offense, than they were at the beginning of December. They have outscored their last three opponents 113-34 when a loss would have eliminated them from the Super Bowl chase.

Next up, however, are the Raiders, who own the AFC's best record, have won seven of eight and, after two midseason losses at home, took their final four games at the Coliseum.

``You knew that where we started out, with a wild-card game, you are going to play good teams,'' Edwards said. ``We would have to play two more. Now, it happens to be the Raiders, they are in our other division that we play in. They know us and we know them and it makes for some drama.''

The Jets took all the drama out of Saturday's game with a precision that has highlighted their offense behind quarterback Chad Pennington. And their defense presented some confusing looks to Peyton Manning, who never got the Colts going.

Oakland presents just as big a challenge for a Jets defense that, after a weak start, also is on a roll.

``Right now, this team is playing better ball on every side of the ball than any team I've been a part of,'' running back Curtis Martin said.

``We're playing together,'' added Pro Bowl defensive end John Abraham. ``We didn't have experience playing together at the beginning of the year, and now we do. We understand what everybody is trying to do and where everybody needs to be.''

They need to be at the Black Hole next Sunday, where they are 1-7-1 overall - the Jets lost three games in Youell Field before the Coliseum was built.

The welcoming party will remind the Jets this is not a home away from home.

``We played three times out there and won once,'' Edwards said. ``Our team feels we will be OK when we go out there. The crowd won't affect us that much.''

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