SAN DIEGO — SAN DIEGO - Under pressure, the league's Most Valuable Player proved to be a frequently fallible one.
Rattled by a constant pass rush from the periphery, Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon was a portrait of frustration in yesterday's 48-21 Super Bowl loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as three of his passes were picked off and run back for touchdowns.
The leader of the NFL's top-ranked offense, Gannon set a record of a different sort, throwing five interceptions - the most in the Super Bowl's 37-year history.
"It was a nightmarish performance," said Gannon, who was sacked five times and finished 24-for-44 passing for 272 yards and a season-worst 48.9 quarterback rating. "I made some poor decisions with the ball tonight. You can't do that in a game like this."
In his first Super Bowl, the 15-year veteran was harassed into making rookie mistakes. Too often, Gannon stared down receivers and was indecisive on his throws.
The tone was set in the first half, when Gannon was hit six times, knocked down five times and sacked twice on 17 throws.
The cumulative effect surfaced in the second half, when Gannon had three interceptions returned for scores.
The first one came late in the third quarter when he looked too long at Jerry Rice, giving cornerback Dwight Smith enough time to break on the pass, pick it off and run 44 yards for the touchdown. That mistake put Oakland in what became an insurmountable, 34-3 hole.
The second and third came late in the fourth quarter when Gannon had a forced pass and a tipped one returned in the final 78 seconds to cement the upset loss.
In the waning moments of the game, Gannon was seen hunched over on the sideline, both hands on his knees while hanging his head.
The quarterback led the Raiders to the Super Bowl on the strength of his precision passing. But after averaging one interception every 62 pass attempts, he was picked off five times on 44 passes last night.
The Buccaneers' ability to anticipate Gannon might have had its roots in Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden's past. Gruden worked with Gannon during his coaching days in Oakland.
But Gannon downplayed Gruden's insider knowledge.
"I don't know if that was a major factor," the quarterback said. "I just think their defense played really well and we didn't play well offensively. As a team, we didn't play well."
When Oakland provided protection, Gannon was able to pull the Raiders within striking distance.
He threw touchdown passes of 39 yards to Jerry Porter and 48 yards to Rice to cut the deficit to 34-21 with 6:06 left in the game.
But Gannon didn't lose this game himself.
Oakland was one-dimensional - its running game managed 16 yards on nine carries. And massive Raiders tackles Lincoln Kennedy and Barry Sims had trouble staying in front of speed rushers Simeon Rice and Greg Spires.
"They got pressure on us early and we couldn't get in synch," Gannon said. "They kept us off balance. We didn't get into a rhythm like we usually do. Turnovers absolutely killed us. It was a very, very long night for the Raiders."