OAKLAND, Calif. — A game between two teams struggling to stay on the fringe of the playoff race rarely generates much interest outside the home markets.
That’s not quite the case in one football-crazed Pennsylvania city when the Tennessee Titans visit the Oakland Raiders.
Titans coach Mike Munchak and Raiders quarterback Matt McGloin both hail from Scranton, Pa., a tough town both credit for their football success.
“That area is really big on following their players,” Munchak said. “People get to know athletes really well in all sports. ... I’m sure there’s lot of Raiders fans and Titans fans in Scranton.”
Despite being a Hall of Fame player as an offensive lineman in the NFL and a college star at Penn State, Munchak has no illusions about who he believes will have more support in his hometown on Sunday when the Raiders (4-6) host the Titans (4-6).
“I think he’s taken over,” Munchak said. “You always go with the player rather than the coach, I think. I’m really happy for him.”
McGloin’s father, Paul, said a local trophy maker has made a special victory bell like the one given to the winner of the annual game between Scranton High School and West Scranton High to be presented to the winner Sunday. McGloin’s oldest brother, Paul Jr., is planning to bring the trophy to the game, while most of the rest of McGloin’s family will be watching back home.
“The support is great,” McGloin said. “Obviously back home in Scranton with coach Munchak being the head guy there and us playing them this week there will be a lot of eyes on the TV, a lot of calls and texts and a lot of support back home. I’m excited about it.”
SECOND START: McGloin, an undrafted rookie out of Penn State, made quite the first impression on the Raiders when he threw three touchdowns and no interceptions in place of the injured Terrelle Pryor in a 28-23 win at Houston. McGloin joined Jim Kelly, Todd Marinovich and Marc Bulger as the only quarterbacks since the 1970 merger to throw at least three TDs and no interceptions in their first start.
“I thought he was poised,” Raiders safety Charles Woodson said. “For a young guy coming in undrafted getting his first start, I thought he handled himself very well, probably above expectations for a lot of people. I know everyone here was very pleased with his performance.”
PLAYOFF PUSH: Despite both having losing records, the Raiders and Titans find themselves still in the race for the sixth and final seed in the AFC playoffs. Miami and the New York Jets are tied for that spot at 5-5, with seven teams close behind with four wins. With so many teams in the race, there is little margin of error for Oakland or Tennessee.
“This is basically our playoffs,” Titans safety Michael Griffin said. “It’s make or break. I don’t think we can go out there and lose another one.”
FITZPATRICK IN RHYTHM: Ryan Fitzpatrick was intercepted twice in each of his first two starts for Tennessee last month the first time Jake Locker was out injured. Since replacing Locker Nov. 10 against the Jaguars and starting against the Colts, Fitzpatrick has thrown for three touchdowns and 486 yards with no interceptions.
He was sacked six times in those first two starts combined and only three times in his latest replacement stint.
He’s using his legs, too, running seven times for 39 yards with another TD. But Fitzpatrick said the Titans lost both of the last two games and what matters now is trying to win a game.
RUNNING RASHAD: McGloin is not the only backup thriving in Oakland. Running back Rashad Jennings leads the NFL with 431 yards from scrimmage the past three weeks with starter Darren McFadden out with a hamstring injury. Jennings was at his best last week when he ran for 150 yards against the Texans. The highlight was an 80-yard run out of the wildcat formation that featured Jennings bowling over Texans safety D.J. Swearinger.
“He is a powerful back,” coach Dennis Allen said. “He is kind of a thudder-type of back and he gives us kind of a little more element of power.”
STINGY DEFENSE? The Titans have allowed an NFL-low seven touchdown passes by opponents, only one over the past six weeks. That puts Tennessee on pace to challenge the franchise low in a 16-game season set in 2000 with 10 TD passes allowed. But the opponents have found it much easier to attack Tennessee on the ground. The Titans have allowed 15 TDs rushing, including 10 in the past four games.