Raiders coach Norv Turner sounded sad, but not apologetic, that Jerry Rice's amazing streak of 274 games with at least one catch had come to an end Sunday on his watch.
"It's one of those things you like to see go on and on as long as he's playing," Turner said Monday. "We had four or five things called where he was the primary guy."
One pass from Rich Gannon against the Bills sailed over Rice's head near the sideline. There might have been one other thrown in his direction in a 13-10 Raiders victory. The streak died with Rice 91 games ahead of runnerup Art Monk _ a record unlikely to be broken.
You have to go back to Dec. 1, 1985, at the end of Rice's up-and-down rookie season, to find the last time he didn't catch one pass in a game. But Rice's attempts to extend the record have been on life support as his skills have declined. Twice in the past three years he barely kept it alive, with one catch last year against the Vikings and one against Miami in 2001. Rice, like Emmitt Smith, can only tarnish his legacy by continuing to play.
Did Turner owe it to Rice to keep the streak going?
Rice has been such a great player for so long, it would have been nice if he finished his career with the streak intact. But if he wanted to guarantee it, he should have retired already because he's not really Jerry Rice anymore. Not with birthday No. 42 next month.
Could Turner have had Gannon throw Rice a 5-yard out simply to keep it alive? Sure. Rice has had enough 10-catch, 200-yard days in his career that nobody would have resented it if he picked up a cheapie. But he already owns the record, he wasn't going after it. And Turner was much more focused on getting his first victory.
Still, Turner will be known as the coach who couldn't get Jerry Rice the ball. "It's really unfortunate the streak ended," Turner said.
Ironically, Monday marked the six-year anniversary of Cal Ripken electing to end his record consecutive games streak at 2,632. Rice had no desire for his to end. Turner tried to get him the ball early, not necessarily because of the streak, but to get him in the flow of the game. Instead, when that didn't work, he was used mainly as a decoy.
When it became apparent toward the end of the game he wasn't going to catch one ball, Rice slammed his helmet to the ground and kicked over a yard-line marker. He and Turner met after the game.
"I didn't apologize," Turner said. "It was more about where we were at than the streak. I think it's really hard for him. Something like that is very special. He's a great, great player with a lot of pride. He doesn't have to play all the time to be productive."
Rice is being phased out by Turner, who has a bunch of young receivers he really likes. The 20-year veteran caught only two passes for 22 yards in the opener.
Turner was told by offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye with less than three minutes left that Rice didn't have a catch.
By the time the Raiders got the ball back, all Turner wanted to do was run out the clock, not throw the ball. Gannon said he wished he had known Rice's streak was in jeopardy.
Rice was composed after the game.
"I never thought it would come to an end like this, but you, know, it's okay," Rice said. "It's all right. It happens. Life goes on. I'll just start another one."