When the Raiders were minutes away from another loss Sunday, Gannon kept quiet and played like the league MVP he is.
The victory could breathe life into the AFC champion Raiders (2-2), who were unimpressive in their first three games as well as in the first 54 minutes of this one. After struggling to execute all afternoon, the Raiders' offense came alive in the final six minutes of regulation for two scores.
"Rich did this, and we all helped," said center Barret Robbins, who returned to the starting lineup. "That's why he's the most valuable player of this league. You could sense a calm feeling out there. We were going to get it done."
After another bad start, Gannon finished 26-of-43 for 348 yards and three touchdowns. The Raiders' veteran superstars all played big roles: Jerry Rice had seven receptions -- including key catches on all three final drives -- for 118 yards, and Tim Brown had six catches for 110 yards.
"I thought we had a good plan and did a good job executing," Gannon said. "We've gone through some adversity. Hopefully this is a way to shake ourselves out of it. This is a veteran team that's always done a good job with adversity. I'm not saying we're out of the woods yet, but this is a good step."
Gannon audibled a 36-yard TD pass to Alvis Whitted, capping a 60-yard drive that pulled the Raiders within 31-24 with 4:38 left. Oakland's defense forced a punt, and Gannon found Rice twice before Charlie Garner rolled through the San Diego defense on a draw for a 24-yard score, tying it with 1:24 left.
After San Diego's second overtime punt, Gannon hit Rice for a 29-yard gain on Oakland's first play. Gannon moved the Raiders from their 8 to the San Diego 28, where Janikowski's kick split the uprights.
"I hope that this game serves as a catalyst and a launching pad to get us going again," Oakland coach Bill Callahan said. "We came alive. We were wearing them down at the end. I thought our stamina was excellent down the stretch."
LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 187 yards -- 55 on a beautiful scoring run -- and also threw a touchdown pass to Drew Brees, but the Chargers (0-4) wasted a golden opportunity for their first win in regulation since last Oct. 13. With a monumental defensive collapse, San Diego lost its eighth straight dating back to last season.
"We thought we had it," Tomlinson said. "I guess they showed why they went to the Super Bowl last year. They know how to win games, and we don't."
Brown and Doug Jolley caught early TD passes from Gannon, but the Raiders didn't shake their offensive malaise until the fourth quarter.
After last week's embarrassing loss at Denver, Callahan promised a return to hard-hitting, run-oriented football. It didn't happen, with San Diego's defense forcing the Raiders into a disjointed game plan of tentative runs and plenty of the short passes they've used for years.
There also was poor execution by Oakland's veterans despite Robbins' return. The All-Pro reclaimed his starting spot after losing it in the wake of his Super Bowl drinking binge. Rice dropped four passes, while Gannon sprayed the ball over, behind and far past his receivers.
The Raiders also played without linebacker Bill Romanowski, who missed the first game of his 16-season NFL career with the effects of a concussion from earlier in the month. Romanowski had played in 243 consecutive games.
While the Raiders labored through the first three quarters, Brees and Tomlinson were having fun. San Diego capped its first scoring drive with a classic trick play: Tomlinson threw a high-arching pass to Brees, who ran under it and dove at the end zone cone for a 21-yard score.
Though Oakland's defense clamped down in the second half, San Diego appeared to seal a win when Lorenzo Neal rushed for a 3-yard score with 5:59 to play for a 31-17 lead.
"The defense has got to win that game for us," Chargers defensive tackle Leonardo Carson said. "It's a simple fact. When we've got them down like that, there's no excuse. We've got to make them earn everything."
San Diego got near the Oakland 30 in the final seconds, but time ran out before Brees could spike the ball.
|Rich Gannon helps the Raiders pull out a key victory after three uninspiring games.(AP)|
|TD||Tim Brown, 36 Yd pass from Rich Gannon (Sebastian Janikowski kick is good), 11:26. Drive: 7 plays, 78 yards in 3:34.|
|TD||Drew Brees, 21 Yd pass from LaDainian Tomlinson (Steve Christie kick is good), 6:46. Drive: 8 plays, 71 yards in 4:40.|
|TD||Justin Peelle, 7 Yd pass from Drew Brees (Steve Christie kick is good), 13:19. Drive: 3 plays, 18 yards in 1:29.|
|TD||Doug Jolley, 2 Yd pass from Rich Gannon (Sebastian Janikowski kick is good), 8:14. Drive: 11 plays, 92 yards in 5:05.|
|TD||LaDainian Tomlinson, 55 Yd run (Steve Christie kick is good), 6:44. Drive: 3 plays, 74 yards in 1:30.|
|FG||Steve Christie 32 Yd, 10:41. Drive: 8 plays, 20 yards in 4:19.|
|FG||Sebastian Janikowski 23 Yd, 9:29. Drive: 16 plays, 75 yards in 7:05.|
|TD||Lorenzo Neal, 3 Yd run (Steve Christie kick is good), 5:59. Drive: 7 plays, 66 yards in 3:30.|
|TD||Alvis Whitted, 36 Yd pass from Rich Gannon (Sebastian Janikowski kick is good), 4:38. Drive: 4 plays, 60 yards in 1:21.|
|TD||Charlie Garner, 24 Yd run (Sebastian Janikowski kick is good), 1:24. Drive: 5 plays, 64 yards in 1:27.|
|FG||Sebastian Janikowski 46 Yd, 5:01. Drive: 9 plays, 64 yards in 4:44.|
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