Well, a little over a year later, he's fit in so well he's the leading receiver. Rice is on pace to catch 30 more passes than his counterpart Tim Brown. Rice has a team-high 40 catches for 559 yards and three touchdowns. Brown, who had been the go-to man before Rice signed in June 2001, has 30 catches for 378 yards and three touchdowns.
"I've always told them, from (senior assistant) Bruce Allen to (owner) Al Davis, ‘The minute y'all think I can't, let me know,'" Brown said. "But I think I'll know before them, and I'm not there yet. I think I'm still able to go out and make plays, and I don't think it's that situation."
Both individuals are certain first-ballot Hall-of-Famers. At the same point last season, Brown had 31 grabs for 502 yards while Rice had 27 catches for 314 yards. Their receiving numbers were quite comparable by the end of the year. Brown finished the season with 91 catches for 1,165 while Rice had 83 grabs for 1,139 yards. Both caught nine touchdowns.
Raider quarterback Rich Gannon, however, attributes Rice's superior 2002 numbers to simply the luck of the draw.
"If you work at it, the guys who keep working and keep pushing, they get the ball in their hands," Gannon said. "Our offense is not predicated on me dropping back and saying, ‘Well, Jerry's got two catches and this other guy doesn't have any.' That's just not the way it works."
Head coach Bill Callahan noted that often times when Brown is the No. 1 option on a play, he may face a double-team. Conversely, when Brown had a 45-yard catch-and-run on the opening drive against San Diego, Callahan said Rice was the play's first option.
"It's just a matter of how people deploy their personnel, how they match up and what they're going to allow you to take," Callahan said. "A lot of that is considered as you game plan. I couldn't even fathom going there and saying we're trying to get this guy the ball more than this guy. That's not how it works. We're trying to get both of them the ball, because they're both exceptional playmakers."