The Super Bowl champion Steelers are losing their confidence, along with games. The Oakland Raiders? Suddenly, they are winning like they did in the old days, with remarkable comebacks and surprise finishes.
Louis Murphy caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Bruce Gradkowski with 9 seconds remaining, his second score in the final 5 1/2 minutes, and the Raiders scored three late touchdowns yesterday to stun host Pittsburgh, 27-24, and deal the Steelers their fourth straight loss.
The Steelers (6-6), in danger of missing the playoffs after winning the Super Bowl for a second time in four seasons, went ahead 24-20 on Ben Roethlisberger's 11-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward with 1:56 remaining, only to have the Raiders (4-8) rally and win it.
For the two-touchdown underdog Raiders, it was a comeback win even better than their 20-17 upset over Cincinnati 2 weeks before. Then, Murphy caught a 29-yard touchdown pass and Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 33-yard field goal in the final 33 seconds.
Overmatched against his hometown Steelers last season, Gradkowski (20-for-33, 308 yards) became the first Raiders quarterback to throw three touchdowns in a fourth quarter since Ken Stabler during a 42-35 win over New Orleans on Dec. 3, 1979, when Oakland trailed 35-14.
"Our receivers coach [Sanjay Lal] gave us a message, and he brought up the 'Miracle on Ice,' Buster Douglas knocking out [Mike] Tyson, and things that were just unbelievable but the people that did it believed they could," receiver Todd Watkins said.
Pittsburgh (6-6) has lost to two of the NFL's worst teams in the last 3 weeks, the Chiefs (3-9) and the Raiders, to fall three games behind Cincinnati in the AFC North.
The NFL has told the players' union it will cut a $100 million annual supplemental revenue-sharing program that subsidizes lower-revenue teams.
That plan, which is a small portion of the $6.5 billion shared in full by all 32 teams, will be cut because the 2010 season will not have a salary cap.
"We are simply going forward on the terms the union approved in March of 2006," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.