- The Washington Times - Monday, December 7, 2009

PITTSBURGH | The defending Super Bowl champion Steelers are losing their confidence as fast as they’re losing leads and losing games. The Oakland Raiders? Suddenly, they’re winning much as they did in the old days, with remarkable comebacks and surprise finishes.

Louis Murphy caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Bruce Gradkowski with nine seconds remaining, his second score in the final 5 1/2 minutes, and the Raiders scored three late touchdowns to stun Pittsburgh 27-24 on Sunday and deal the Steelers their fourth consecutive 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 two weeks before. In that game, 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 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.

Who does Gradkowski think he is, one-time Raiders comeback king George Blanda? Until Sunday, the Raiders had thrown only five touchdown passes all season.

Gradkowski, who completed only two passes and had a 1.0 passer rating during a 31-0 loss in Pittsburgh with Cleveland last December, finished 20-for-33 for 308 yards with a passer rating of 121.8.

“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,” wide receiver Todd Watkins said.

Pittsburgh, 6-2 at midseason, has lost to two of the NFL’s worst teams in the last three weeks, the Chiefs (3-9) and the Raiders, to fall three games behind Cincinnati (9-3) in the AFC North.

“I can’t even describe how frustrating it is right now to be 6-6,” linebacker James Farrior said. “We thought we’d be doing a lot better at this point. But we are what our record says we are.”

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