When the NFL team schedules came out this year, two specific games stood out most to me. First, was the long awaited Raiders thanksgiving game that took decades in the making, against the Dallas Cowboys. The second, was the week after, going to Pittsburgh to face our old rivals, the brutal Steelers. To myself, these two games would matter the most.
I thought we were capable of beating both before the season, even though it would be a longshot. One of those two matchups came on a national broadcast embarrassment. The other, would be a national broadcast accomplishment.
Which means once again, the NFL is left shocked and dazed, underestimating a talented young team.
I woke up a little late to the contest, turning the radio on the second half to shockingly see the score; 10-6 leading into halftime. Though defense was the name of the game, I was happy to hear Bruce Gradkowski moving the ball well, and Justin Fargas having great ball vision. With the score still locked on near the end of third quarter---it was very apparent that victory could, and would be had if the offense could put up points. With optimism warming up my spirits, I eagerly listened to the broadcast, not expecting what would happen next.
The first strike, was with 8:35 left in the 4th quarter. It would see Bruce Gradkowski back peddle, plant his feet, dodge pressure, and throw a beautiful pass to 17 yard pass to find Chaz Schilens. Touchdown, Raiders. That great feeling would soon go away, and Ben Roethlisberger would follow with a two play, 1:08 second drive that would have Rashad Mendenhall score his own touchdown from on a 3 yard run.
The pressure was on for my team, and I could only hope for the offense to score again, and fast. Little did I know Oakland wasn't about to be upshowed by it's struggling once proud rival.
The second strike came after a equally fast three play drive, that was 1:45. On third and two, with 5:42 left, Bruce Gradkowski would once again show his skills with the play action pass. Stopping his feet at the 20 yard line, than zinged a deep pass down to Louis Murphy, which was---CAUGHT, for a 75 yd touchdown. To say I was estatic would be a understatement. Touchdown, Raiders. But, as with all great moments, come great cringes.
Enter Ben Roethlisberger once again.
This time, Pittsburgh controlled the ball much better. Maybe out of fear of Oakland, maybe out of lack of confidence in defense, they used a lot of clock with their next drive. Lasting 3:32, seven plays, Big Ben found Hines Ward open in the endzone for a 11 yard TD. Uh oh, this is common territory for Raider Fans. Would the team do the unthinkable, and comeback to score again?
The tension was overwhelming, but this wasn't about to be the end for the Pittsburgh native.
The third strike was the best yet. With 15 seconds left in the 4th quarter, Bruce Gradkowski once again had great pocket presence, avoiding the blitz, and stepped foward into the pocket. He found Louis Murphy in the endzone and---CAUGHT, for a 18 yard touchdown. Touchdown, Raiders.
Welcome to the upset once again Oakland, knocking off the defending Super Bowl Champs, 27-24. Not only putting smiles on your fans, but doing it with great poise.
After the game, Tom Cable said in the post game conference, "60 minutes, we played the whole thing". I couldn't agree more. The gameball definitely goes to Bruce Gradkowski, had one of the best passing performances the Raiders have seen in years, going 20/33, 308 yards, 20 rushing yards, 3 TD's, and 0 interceptions. Close second would be the rookie Louis Murphy, who continued making big plays today, catching 4 receptions for 128 yards, 2 TD's. Not to be outdone, Justin Fargas ran alright today for 63 yards.
Bruce's leadership can't be denied, and should make Russell supporters think twice about the effect Gradkowski has had on the team by comparison.
A few weeks ago, I talked about this talented team finishing off better than last season. It's not a stretch, going against the confidence shattered Redskins, horrible Browns, off and on Ravens, and even a chance at revenge against the Broncos. Ending the season on a high note could be a reality, not wishful thinking.
By the way, you can shut up this week Tom Jackson. Just please, shut up.