Win over Pittsburgh a distant memory

The calendar suggests that Oakland Raiders 30-17 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on September 15, 2002, was just slightly over a year ago. Given how far both teams have fallen, however, makes the game seem like eons ago.

The Raiders have gone from Super Bowl participants to 3-9. Pittsburgh fell to 0-2 with that aforementioned loss but rebounded to win the AFC North before losing in overtime to Tennessee in the AFC Divisional playoffs. The Steelers are 4-8 and out of realistic playoff contention. Pittsburgh is mathematically alive only because it is in a weaker division with Baltimore and Cincinnati both 7-5 and tied for first place.

That mid-September game last is more memorable for what the Raiders were then and what they are now. Oakland filled the air with more passes than a gigolo at a nightclub.

Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon unleashed an aerial assault on the Steelers and the team continued in that fashion for the rest of the season. Gannon was 43-for-64 for 403 yards and a touchdown, the Raiders prevailed and there was much rejoicing. These were the new and bold Raiders under then rookie head coach Bill Callahan – not the conservative Raiders under Jon Gruden that had fans bristling.

Gannon set NFL records with 418 pass completions and 10 300-yard games en route to the Most Valuable Player Award. Club records were set for passing attempts, completions and yardage.

Gannon's 4,689 yards tied for seventh all-time. Only a monsoon in the final game against Kansas City kept Gannon from a chance at becoming the second man in NFL history to pass for 5,000 yards in a season.

The Raiders embarrassing 48-21 loss to Gruden's Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl should have been a painful reminder that the team needs to establish the running game as a genuine threat. More penalty yardage than rushing yardages equals more losses.

Oakland, however, spent the first half of the season by changing and adding to the passing game. The Raiders resisted the temptation to be a running team until both Gannon and backup Marques Tuiasosopo were lost for the season with injuries. Oakland's ground game was not much of a factor in last week's 22-8 loss to Denver but had been stunningly efficient the previous three weeks.

With snow in the forecast Sunday, Oakland may not want to revert to last year's ways in Pittsburgh.

Vince D'Adamo can be reached at vdad7@yahoo.com


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