By beating Denver (6-3) coupled with the San Diego Chargers (6-3) 28-24 loss to St, the AFC West race is a jump ball with seven games remaining. Instead of stubbornly trying hammer the ball with the running game right into the teeth of the Broncos' top-rated run defense, third overall in the NFL, Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon surgically dissected Denver with the pass.
Gannon completed 34-of-38 passes for 374 yards against a Denver defense that at times rushed two defenders and dropped nine into coverage. In a 23-20 overtime loss to San Francisco last week, the Raiders tried running on first down but with minimal success. Oakland ran nine times on first down and gained just 18 yards. The Raiders averaged just 2.8 yards on first down.
On Monday, however, Oakland called just six running plays out of 24 first down plays. Oakland averaged 5.8 yards overall on first down. So instead of controlling the ball on the ground, the Raiders established control with the short passing game. That strategy proved wise because against a stout run defense like Denver, just lining up and playing smash mouth football will not cut it. Of course with Gannon, two future Hall-of-Fame wide receivers (Jerry Rice and Tim Brown) and another budding star in Jerry Porter Oakland has the luxury of going to the air.