Steelers, Raiders Hope for Playoffs

The Oakland Raiders’ dream of a

division championship were dampened by a loss in soggy Seattle

today, while the Pittsburgh Steelers kept their slim

playoff hopes alive with a decisive win over Washington in

their farewell to Three Rivers Stadium.

Blame the rain, the refs or anybody named Williams, but the Raiders had to curse their luck for their 27-24 defeat after a controversial safety set the stage for Seawhawk quarterback John Kitna to throw a nine-yard touchdown to Darrell Jackson with 28 seconds remaining for the winning score.

The loss cut playoff-bound Oakland’s lead over Denver in the AFC West to just one-half game. The Broncos (10-4) own the tiebreaker and can take the division by winning their final two games, whatever the Raiders (11-4) do next week against Carolina.

Seattle’s Winning Drive

With 2:24 remaining, Raiders defensive back Charles Woodson appeared to make a game-saving play, knocking the ball out of the hands of Seahawks running back Ricky Watters, who had broken into the secondary and was racing for the end zone.

Oakland safety Marquez Pope recovered the fumble at the 2 but slid along the wet field into the end zone. Officials ruled it a safety after Pope was downed by the Seahawks’ James Williams. The two-point safety brought Seattle within 24-21.

“The interpretation of it was that it was a safety,” Oakland coach Jon Gruden said. “We protested to no avail. The call stood. We can talk about it all day. It’s obvious we thought it should have been our ball on the 1-yard line.”

“Either you down me where I recovered the ball or it’s a touchback and you bring our team out to the 20-yard line,” said Pope. “It’s a call I’ve never heard before but like they say, you always have your first.”

After the free kick, the Seahawks (6-9) took over at their 31. Kitna, who was knocked out of the game briefly in the third quarter, drove Seattle 69 yards in nine plays for the score.

“I think Jon played a very courageous game,” Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said. “He hurt his knee, reallu jammed his tendon when he slammed it into the turf, and the conditions were very, very tough for throwing.”

Seattle miscues gave Oakland two pieces of luck at the end. Rian Lindell missed the extra point, meaning the Raiders needed only a field goal to force overtime, and Lindell’s kickoff went out of bounds, giving Oakland the ball at the 40.

But Seattle defensive back Willie Williams intercepted a deflected pass at the Seattle 33 with 12 seconds left.

Steelers Legends Say Goodbye

In Pittsburgh, the Steelers said goodbye to their 31-year-old stadium with a victory as Jerome Bettis rushed for 104 yards and Richard Huntley ran for a pair of touchdowns in a 24-3 victory over the Washington Redskins.

Three Rivers Stadium served as home to the Steelers’ four Super Bowl championship teams. About 40 past players took part in postgame ceremonies.

Almost the entire Steelers Iron Curtain team was on hand including Franco Harris, Mel Blount, Lynn Swan, Dave Stallworth and L. C. Greenwood, but not quarterback Terry Bradshaw.

“It’s a sad day one way but it brought back so many memories,” said Harris, “not just the Immaculate Reception. It was great coach [Chuck] Noll was here and seeing the guys was terrific.

“The new park is a step forward for the City of Pittsburgh, but I will always think of Three Rivers as our ball park.”

Said Bettis: “It makes you understand the tradition about every guy that has come here and played in these uniforms.”

The current band of Steelers will have a new home located adjacent to their current facility.

Playoff Hopes Are Still Alive

“We are alive for the playoffs still and we gave the fans and the old Steelers something to remember,” coach Bill Cowher said. “Jerome Bettis played great, Richard Huntley took it into the end zone twice.

“[Quarterback] Kordell Stewart did a good job. And our defense shut down [Washington quarterback] Jeff George. [Hank] Poteat goes down in history with the longest punt return in the history of Three Rivers. A great day and we are still alive.”

Rookie Hank Poteat returned a punt 53 yards for a score for Pittsburgh (8-7), which still needs to defeat San Diego next week and get some help from other teams to make the playoffs.

There will be no January football for the Redskins (7-8). Despite a $100 million payroll, the Redskins lost for the sixth time in seven games and were eliminated from the playoffs.

“This season went south for all of us,” interim coach Terry Robiskie said.

“You saw the game, nothing goes right for us,” said flashy cornerback Deion Sanders. “Three different times we dropped would-be interceptions. They ran back a punt for a touchdown, that’s what I am supposed to do. It’s hard to believe how bad this season has become.”