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CHIEFS 27, RAIDERS 23

Vermeil's gamble pays off big for Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Dick Vermeil was going to be the biggest fool or the shrewdest gambler in the NFL.

With five seconds left yesterday, Kansas City trailed by three and had the ball on the Oakland 1 and Vermeil faced one of the toughest decisions of his long coaching career.

Have Lawrence Tynes -- who's on a 13-for-13 streak -- kick a virtually automatic field goal and force overtime, or roll the dice and go for the win?

Vermeil went for the touchdown. Behind center Casey Wiegmann and 10-time Pro Bowl right guard Will Shields, Larry Johnson dived over the pile into the end zone for a 27-23 victory that brought a roar from the sellout crowd and left the emotional head coach in tears.

''Wow! I was scared. I just figured I'm too old to wait," said Vermeil, who recently turned 69. ''If we had not made it, then you guys [reporters] would have had a lot of fun with that. It was not an impulsive thing. It was the right thing for us to do."

The sixth straight victory for the Chiefs (5-3) over the Raiders (3-5) kept them one game behind Denver in the AFC West and dealt Oakland a painful loss.

''This is about as bitter a defeat as you could have," said Oakland quarterback Kerry Collins, whose two fourth-quarter touchdown passes put the Raiders on top. ''It's tough. You fight your way back in a rough game, and find a way to get ahead, and then it doesn't work out. That's about as tough as it gets."

Johnson and Trent Green made the sensational finish possible when Green hit the wide-open running back over the middle. He sped 36 yards before Nnamdi Asomugha and Stuart Schweigert ran him down at the 1.

''Down in the red zone, he put the ball in my hands," said Johnson, who has publicly complained that Vermeil does not give him enough carries. ''I'm glad they gave me the opportunity."

Randy Moss, who hadn't caught a pass all day, beat Dewayne Washington in the corner of the end zone for a 7-yard reception with 1:45 left that gave the Raiders the lead.

Then Green, who attended his father's funeral just four days earlier, whipped the Chiefs 72 yards downfield.

Before going for it, Vermeil checked with his coaches and players.

''He was asking questions of everybody to see what everybody thought, what everybody's attitude was," said Green. ''No matter how that play ended up, that's where you have to send a message on a football team and I think that was great on his part to have the confidence in us."

The Chiefs were missing their best running back (Priest Holmes), best offensive lineman (Willie Roaf), and best cornerback (Patrick Surtain), as well as two of their top backups in the secondary.

The Raiders were without two starters, defensive backs Charles Woodson and Derrick Gibson, and that could have made a difference in Kansas City's final drive.

Johnson, who had 107 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries, scored on a 15-yard run for a 20-9 lead with 12:56 left.

But then the Oakland offense came alive. Collins hit Jerry Porter with a 4-yard TD pass and Moss, hobbled most of the week in practice, caught his first pass. A 2-point conversion run by Jordan put the Raiders on top, 23-20.

''When we made the 2-point conversion we went up by three. You thought at worst it would be overtime," said Oakland coach Norv Turner.

Green tossed a 6-yard TD pass to Tony Richardson for a 13-9 lead at the end of third quarter and, two plays later, Greg Wesley intercepted Collins. The Chiefs took over at the Oakland 35, and Johnson later went in from the 15.

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