Rich Gannon may go down as one of the most prolific passers in team history but if the Raiders are to have any success this season they're going to have to get an equal amount of production from the running game. That was the word set down by first-year head coach Bill Callahan in the preseason and it was an edict Oakland followed to perfection in its season-opener against Seattle on Sunday.
In what was their most balanced attack in more than two years, the Raiders rushed for 221 yards and passed for another 214 in laying waste to the undermanned and overmatched Seahawks, who fell behind by 21 points in the first half and were never a threat.
''When we're at our best we have that kind of balance,'' said Gannon, who completed 19 of 28 pass attempts against Seattle. ''We were a very good football team in 2000 with that balance. We really hurt people.''
In 2000 the Raiders led the NFL in rushing while Gannon carried the third-best quarterback rating in the AFC. Last season the addition of wide receiver Jerry Rice and the presence of Tim Brown convinced then-head coach Jon Gruden to abandon the running game in favor of the aerial attack, which worked well for Rice and Brown but left the running backs scrambling for opportunities.
Against Seattle, however, there was no disparity. The Raiders passed when they had to and ran when they wanted to, meeting little resistance from the Seahawks no matter what they tried.
The balance wasn't just limited to the offense, either. Oakland's defense, making its first extended appearance since an offseason overhaul brought in nine new starters, had no trouble shutting down Seattle running back Shaun Alexander and knocked quarterback Matt Hasselbeck around most of the afternoon.
The combined effort was an easier-than-it-looked 14-point victory over Seattle, which had been hopeful of a better beginning to its jump back to the NFC. But for the Seahawks, it was an all too familiar sight in Oakland, where they have now lost five straight games.
''I didn't expect them to come out and put a foot up our behind,'' said Seattle cornerback Shawn Springs. ''Take your hats off to them. They did what they wanted to do. They came out and out-blocked us, out-ran us and out-toughed us. It was no secret. They just out-played us.''
Which is just what Callahan was hoping for. Despite splitting their four preseason games the Raiders had looked like a very average team and there were definite questions as to how Oakland's players would respond to Callahan's coaching style.
But after rolling through the Seahawks on just about every front, Oakland's head coach was able to relax a little. He even earned himself a game ball, which was awarded to Callahan by his players following the victory.
''It is important, if you are going to be a playoff team in this league, to win your opener,'' said Callahan. ''We wanted to establish a physical presence up front on both the offensive and defensive lines and we did so today.''
In a big way.
The Raiders dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, slicing up Seattle's defense at will while corralling the Seahawks offense at every turn.
Despite Callahan's insistance to get the running game going early, the Raiders came out throwing the ball against Seattle. Gannon passed on Oakland's first four plays from scrimmage, completing three, then used a big 29-yard burst up the middle from Garner to set up an eight-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tim Brown.
That put to rest any concern over the lack of scoring by the starting offense during the preseason and turned attention toward the Raiders' revamped defense. But a 65-yard kickoff return by Seattle's Maurice Morris put Oakland in a deep hole and the Seahawks quickly took advantage, using just six plays to travel 36 yards and get into the end zone. Matt Hasselbeck's one-yard toss to tight end Itula Mili on fourth-and-goal put Seattle on the board and tied the game at 7-7.
After that, however, the Raiders defense didn't budge. They sent waves of defenders after Hasselbeck and had the Seahawks' quarterback on the run for much of the first half.
More importantly, Oakland corralled Seattle running back Shaun Alexander at every turn. The man who only a year ago burned the Raiders for 266 yards and the fourth-highest single game rushing total in NFL history, Alexander looked liked the fourth-slowest running back in league history Sunday. The third-year veteran rarely got out of the Seahawks backfield without getting hit, managing all of 16 yards on seven carries in the first half. And nine of those 16 yards came on one play.
Alexander finished the game with just 36 yards on 13 carries while Seattle managed only 43 yards total on the ground.
''We just knew what they wanted to come and out and do and we stopped it,'' said Oakland defensive tackle Rod Coleman, who had two of the Raiders three sacks. ''We knew what they're tendencies were and we just played them tough. (Alexander) is a lot like Ricky Watters. You hit him and he'll go down.''
With the defense keeping Alexander and Seattle in check, the Raiders had little trouble in putting distance between themselves and the Seahawks. Garner scored a pair of touchdowns, one a picture-perfect 20-yard burst up the middle that was sprung by key blocks from center Barret Robbins and fullback Jon Ritchie.
Later, Garner was on the receiving end of a 26-yard touchdown pass from Gannon on a broken play. Gannon dropped back to pass but was flushed out of the pocket and took off toward his right when he found Garner, who had run a play-fake up the middle. When Gannon began to scramble, Garner followed suit and worked his way into the open, grabbing Gannon's pass at the Seattle five-yard line and racing into the end zone.
After forcing a punt after just three plays, the Raiders went back to work. Oakland marched straight through the heart of Seattle's defense, moving from its own 33 to the Seahawks' 12. From there, Randy Jordan took the honors, going around the left side of the Raiders line then barely making it inside the goal-line pylon for the touchdown.
The route, as they say, was on.
Sebastian Janikowski and Seattle's Rian Lindell traded field goals before the Seahawks intercepted a deflected Gannon pass to set up their second touchdown of the game. Alexander's 11-yard reception helped pull Seattle within 31-17 with just under six minutes remaining but the Seahawks could get no closer.