And now it starts. A year ago, the Raiders got their most improbable win of another disappointing season in Pittsburgh. Led by Bruce Gradkowski, they scored 3 touchdowns in the final 9 minutes of play, including an 11-yarder to Louis Murphy with 9 seconds to play, giving the Raiders a 27-24 win.
What made it even more astonishing wasn’t the fact that it was in Pittsburgh or that the Steelers were the defending Super Bowl champs, but that it was sandwiched between a 24-7 lackluster loss in Dallas on Thanksgiving and a 34-13 home loss to the Redskins a week later. There were virtually no signs pointing to a Raiders win.
That’s not true this time. A year later, the Raiders are riding high heading to Pittsburgh, while the Steelers are coming off a home loss to the Patriots in which they were completely outplayed. Add to the mix that Pittsburgh’s offensive line is completely decimated with injuries and that the Raiders are 3rd in the NFL in sacks, and the signs are pointing to the possibility of another Raiders upset win. But this time, the game actually means something.
Last year, the Raiders were 3-8 and heading towards their NFL record, 7th straight season of double-digit losses. But 2010 has proven that this team can play with anybody, both good and bad. At 5-4, and tied for the lead in the AFC West, the Raiders can’t afford to just give away games–and in order to win the West, they’re going to need to beat a good team. Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, San Diego, Jacksonville, and Kansas City are all still on the docket, as well as Miami and Denver, and trust me, the Broncos are going to want a little revenge after the debacle there last month.
It’s not going to be easy, nor should it be. Despite being healthy again, Gradkowski will not start and Jason Campbell will. Head Coach Tom Cable said repeatedly that Gradkowski would start once he was ready to play, but how can anyone justify sitting Campbell right now? But trust me, if he isn’t moving the ball on Sunday, Bruce will don a helmet sooner rather than later. So will Louis Murphy, and Nnamdi Asomugha, and Zach Miller. Yes, while the Steelers are beaten up, the Raiders are coming off a bye, rested and healthy.
It really comes down to this: If Darren McFadden can run the ball, which will allow Campbell to use the play-action pass, and if the Raiders can pressure Ben Roethlisberger the way New England did last Sunday, Oakland can win this game and cement itself as a bona fide playoff contender.
Did I really just say that? Gulp.