OAKLAND, CALIF. No matter his age or the color of his uniform, Jerry Rice is simply amazing in the playoffs.
Rice caught nine passes for 183 yards and a touchdown, and Charlie Garner rushed 80 yards for a score with 1:27 left as the Oakland Raiders pulled out of their late-season nosedive with a 38-24 victory over the New York Jets on Saturday night.
"I'm just like a little kid," Rice said of his performance. "I'm still having fun."
The Raiders (11-6) advanced to face New England (11-5) next Saturday in Foxboro. By closing the regular season with three straight losses, Oakland handed a bye and home-field advantage to the Patriots.
"Right now, we're one step closer," Rice said.
Six days after the Jets beat Oakland 24-22 in the teams' regular-season finale, the Raiders emphatically turned the tables with their best performance in two months. A roster of veterans assembled specifically for the postseason got it together just in time and Rice led the way.
It was Rice's 24th career postseason game, but his first with the Raiders after 16 record-setting seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. At 39, the NFL's most prolific receiver wrote a remarkable new chapter in his matchless career with several clutch receptions in the second half.
"It's crunch time. Everything is on the line," he said. "This is the time of year we live for. I want to play my best football. I really wanted to show my teammates what it's all about."
Rice caught a 21-yard TD pass from Rich Gannon with 5:53 left, giving the Raiders a 31-17 lead. It was his 20th playoff TD, moving him one behind Thurman Thomas and Emmitt Smith for the NFL record.
The Jets pulled within seven points on Vinny Testaverde's second TD pass to Wayne Chrebet, with 1:52 left. After the Raiders forced New York to use its final two timeouts, Garner sprinted down Oakland's sideline on third-and-10 for the clinching score.
After losing four games during a six-week slide that cost Oakland a first-round playoff bye and threatened its once-promising season, the Raiders snapped back into form.
Sebastian Janikowski, a week after sitting out a game with a foot infection, was perfect on three field goals, and Pro Bowl starter Gannon passed for 294 yards.
On the 33-year anniversary of the Jets' only Super Bowl victory, New York played well, but couldn't contain Rice, even with double coverage. After winning three of their final four regular-season games to sneak into the playoffs, the Jets failed to earn just their second playoff victory since 1986.
Zack Crockett's two-yard TD run on the first play of the fourth quarter was set up by a 47-yard catch by Rice, who became the oldest player in NFL history with a 100-yard receiving game in the playoffs. It was the eighth such game of the 39-year-old Rice's postseason career.
After the Jets (10-7) closed to 24-17 on Richie Anderson's three-yard TD reception with 10:18 left, Rice again took charge. He made a key 21-yard catch before scoring all alone in front of the Black Hole, where the fans nearly collapsed the small barrier holding them in.
Janikowski missed last week's meeting with the Jets after spending three days in the hospital. He grimaced after each kick, but Janikowski made field goals from 21, 41 and 45 yards in the first half.
John Hall, whose 53-yard field goal with 59 seconds left won it for New York over the Raiders last week, missed a 45-yard kick in the first quarter. Anthony Dorsett blocked Hall's 41-yard attempt shortly before halftime the first blocked field goal in New York's playoff history.
The Raiders moved the ball consistently, but couldn't get into the end zone until their final drive of the first half. Tim Brown caught a 2-yard TD pass from Gannon 22 seconds before halftime, making it 16-3.
But the Jets cut Oakland's lead with a 72-yard touchdown drive to open the second half. Chrebet, who made a spectacular diving catch to keep the drive alive, scored easily on a 17-yard pass from Testaverde.