The Raiders lost starting quarterback Rich Gannon in the first quarter Sunday night, but will anyone remember? Kerry Collins, appearing in his first regular-season game with his team, had Oakland on the move much of the night, and the defense was dominant when it had to be.
It added up to a frustrating night for Tampa Bay Coach Jon Gruden, whose return to Oakland was almost as horrific as the pounding his team handed the Raiders in the Super Bowl two seasons ago.
Booed from the moment he stepped onto the field for warm-ups, the former Oakland coach left Network Associates Coliseum with a 30-20 loss, an 0-3 record and an offense that needed until the fourth quarter to score its first touchdown of the season.
The Raiders got everything they wanted from the game. Well, except for the loss of Gannon, who exited in the first quarter after a collision with linebacker Derrick Brooks. He returned to locker room for what was described as a back observation and watched the second half from the sideline, without shoulder pads.
Gannon's absence was hardly noticed.
Collins quickly shook off the rust and before long was completing laser passes all over the field. He threw for 139 yards in the first half and 228 overall. His touchdown pass to Ronald Curry just before halftime gave the Raiders the lead for good, 13-6.
Curry deserves much of the credit, however.
He caught the pass in the left flat and, assisted by a block from receiver Jerry Rice, dashed up the sideline, capping the play with a leaping somersault over the goal line. It was Curry's second touchdown reception in as many weeks.
The Raiders stretched their lead to 16-6 on the opening series of the second half and broke things open moments later when Phillip Buchanon stepped in front of receiver Dave Moore to intercept a pass from Brad Johnson. The cornerback then returned it 32 yards for a touchdown, marking the seventh time the third-year player has reached the end zone on an interception.
As if that wasn't enough to charge the sellout crowd, Tyrone Wheatley finished off a nine-play drive later in the quarter with a 2-yard run that made it 30-6.
Even when the Bucs finally crossed the goal line, Raiders fans had reason to cheer. Tim Brown was on the receiving end of Brad Johnson's 16-yard pass, which was the 100th touchdown reception of the former Oakland star's career.
It was a perfect night for the Raiders, but it didn't start out that way.
Tampa Bay needed only two big plays to strike first. Three plays into the Bucs' opening possession, Brad Johnson connected with fullback Alstott in the left flat on third-and-5 and the fullback rumbled for 17 yards to the Oakland 46. On the next play, Johnson threw another pass in that direction, this time to Garner.
The tailback then sprinted up the sideline and might have scored had defensive lineman Warren Sapp not brought him down with a shoestring tackle. That 31-yard gain led to Martin Gramatica's 36-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Doug Gabriel nearly answered that score on the ensuing kickoff. He headed up the left sideline, made a nice cut and then showed the speed that has made him arguably the top deep threat in the Raiders' passing game.
He wasn't quick enough on this occasion. Will Allen stripped the ball from Gabriel, and Ryan Nece recovered for Tampa, negating a 64-yard gain to the Bucs' 35.
Not exactly the start Raiders owner Al Davis had in mind.
But Oakland overcame the shaky start with a recharged running game and a defense that seemed to toughen as the game unfolded.
The Raiders got big plays from linebacker Napoleon Harris, who returned for the first time since undergoing knee surgery in early August, and Warren Sapp played as one might have expected against his former team.
One week after recording just one tackle against Buffalo, the seven-time Pro Bowl player had an extra hop in his step, as he showed when he chased down Garner on the Bucs' opening series. Sapp also put heat on Johnson, who entered the game with an anemic 55.4 quarterback rating.
Johnson, who was benched a week earlier against Seattle, failed to get the Bucs into the end zone in the first half, extending the team's streak to 10 quarters with a touchdown.
The Raiders out-gained the Bucs 251-144 through two quarters but they too had a hard time generating points. That was hardly surprising because Tampa's defense is the only reason the Bucs have been competitive this season.
Still, the Raiders managed three scoring drives in the first half, two that were led by Collins. Gannon had taken every snap in Oakland's first two games, but would take no more on this night after colliding with Brooks.
Collins drove the Raiders to a score the first time he stepped onto the field. It wasn't the quick-strike Collins of the preseason, however. Instead, the Raiders needed 14 plays to go 53 yards. Sebastian Janikowski capped the drive with a 40-yard field goal, which gave Oakland a 6-3 lead.