Oakland Raiders 2002 AFC Football Championship Ring
The 2002 Oakland Raiders season was the club's 43rd, and 33rd in the National Football League. The Raiders, under the leadership of first-year head coach Bill Callahan, clinched a third consecutive AFC West title with an 11–5 finish. The team is best remembered for reaching the Super Bowl; in doing so, they became the first Raiders squad in nineteen years to reach professional football's biggest stage, as well as the first since their return to Oakland in 1995.
The 2002 season, due mainly to the aforementioned Super Bowl run, ranks among the most important in franchise history. The aging Raiders' controversial elimination from the prior year's playoffs set the stage for a concerted championship push. Owner Al Davis traded then-head coach Jon Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shortly after the Raiders' 2001 playoff loss; in doing so, he received two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and cash considerations from Tampa Bay. Davis, despite team salary cap troubles, also managed to acquire veteran stars Sam Adams, Rod Woodson, and Bill Romanowski during the 2002 offseason.
The Raiders entered the season with a hugely talented, albeit aging roster of players. The offense was led by quarterback Rich Gannon, would be named MVP for the season. The team's receiving corps of Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, and Jerry Porter ranked among the league's best; additionally, running back Charlie Garner posted 1,903 all-purpose yards. The offensive line, moreover, was anchored by pro-bowlers Lincoln Kennedy and Barret Robbins. The Raiders' offense, all told, led the league in total yardage; Gannon additionally led all NFL quarterbacks in passing with 4,689 yards. The defense, while less vaunted, nonetheless ranked among the NFL's finest; the contributions of Rod Woodson, Bill Romanowski, Charles Woodson, and Trace Armstrong aided the Raiders' cause greatly.
In the third quarter of Oakland's 26–20 win on Monday Night Football over the Jets Tim Brown became the third player in NFL history with 1,000 career catches; the game was stopped so Brown could be honored for the achievement; a vehicle carrying his mother and family drove onto the field for the celebration.
Despite their talent, the Raiders struggled in the first half of the 2002 season. A 4–0 start was followed by four consecutive losses; the team's 4–4 record stunned many onlookers. The team, however, redeemed itself by winning seven of its final eight contests. Finishing 11-5 in a conference where twelve teams obtained .500 or better records and nine were above .500, the Raiders clinched the AFC's top seed and full home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They routed the New York Jets and Tennessee Titans in the playoffs, by a combined score of 71-34 and a plus-four in turnover differential; in doing so, they advanced to Super Bowl. Ironically, their opponent would be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led by their former coach Jon Gruden.
The Raiders entered Super Bowl XXXVII as slight favorites; many predicted a hard-fought showdown between Oakland's top-ranked offense and Tampa Bay's top-ranked defense. The resulting game, however, ended in disaster for the Raiders. An early three-point lead (courtesy of a Sebastian Janikowski field goal) evaporated as the Buccaneers scored thirty-four unanswered points. The Buccaneers defense, aided by Gruden's knowledge of the Raider offense, intercepted Rich Gannon three times during this scoring surge. A furious Raider rally cut the score to an almost-competitive 34–21 in the fourth quarter; two more Gannon interceptions, however, sealed the Raiders' fate in a 48–21 bludgeoning.
As of the 2015 season, this was the last season that Oakland qualified for the playoffs, making it 12 straight years that the Oakland Raiders have missed the playoffs, as well as their last season with an above .500 record.