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Time Is Running Out for the Raiders : Pro football: Injury to Robinson leaves the rushing attack in doubt. The Seahawks' Mirer will test the defense.

December 12, 1993|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For the Raiders, now comes the stretch run.

How well they do might depend on how well they run.

Beginning with today's matchup against the Seattle Seahawks at the Coliseum, the Raiders have four games left to earn a playoff spot. It would be tough enough if they were at full strength.

The Raiders are one of five teams with a record of 7-5 or better that are fighting for three wild-card spots. Two other clubs are a game behind at 6-6.

That's assuming the Raiders do not win the division title. To do that, they would have to hold off the San Diego Chargers (6-6), beat out the Denver Broncos (7-5) and surpass the Kansas City Chiefs (9-3). Tying the Chiefs won't be enough because Kansas City won the two head-to-head meetings.

Three of the Raiders' final four games are at home, but that's of little comfort because the team is 2-3 at the Coliseum, once a stadium opposing clubs feared to enter.

That was when teams had to worry about stopping Marcus Allen or Bo Jackson.

Rookie tailback Greg Robinson was starting to put a little of that concern back into opposing defenses. He gained 591 yards rushing before suffering torn cartilage last Sunday in Buffalo.

With fellow running back Napoleon McCallum still sidelined after an appendectomy, the Raiders need reinforcements in the backfield.

Will Nick Bell, penciled in as the starting tailback in training camp before injuries changed those plans, finally reach expectations?

Will Steve Smith, Ty Montgomery or Randy Jordan contribute crucial yardage?

Will the Raiders turn receiver/return man Rocket Ismail into a running back?

The last time these teams met, the Raiders rushed for 83 yards and struggled to beat the Seahawks in Seattle, 17-13.

That was the season's second week when Rick Mirer, the Seahawks' rookie quarterback, was still learning his way around his backfield.

He has since learned enough to draw raves from around the league for making an immediate impact at the most difficult position to learn in football.

"You can see he's a lot calmer than he was the first time," said Raider Coach Art Shell after viewing Seattle game film. "He has a good grasp of what they're doing."

Mirer has completed 57.6% of his passes for 2,240 yards and seven touchdowns and has led the Seahawks to a 5-7 record.

That might not sound like much, but, for a team that was 2-14 last season, 5-7 is a big improvement.

Mirer seemed to come of age against the New England Patriots in his seventh game. He led a 14-play, 54-yard, game-winning drive in the closing minutes, capping it with a one-yard pass to Brian Blades with 25 seconds left to give Seattle a 10-9 victory.

But it hasn't all been big plays and shining reviews. Mirer has gotten his body bruised as defensive linemen have repeatedly gotten their hands on him. And he has gotten his ego bruised as defensive backs have repeatedly gotten their hands on his passes.

Mirer has been sacked 38 times, lost 205 yards and has 15 interceptions.

"Every Sunday has been a learning experience," he said.

Said Tom Flores, Mirer's coach and a former quarterback: "I think he has developed very well for a rookie put in the position we have put him in, being a starter in his first year with a team that's rebuilding.

"He has given us some good leadership, the ability to scramble with the ball and, I think, it's just a matter of time (before) he'll be making more right decisions. Sometimes, he's a fraction of a second off, and that causes some mistakes."

When the Seahawks lost to the Raiders, they dropped to 0-2, and some fans thought Seattle was as bad as ever.

Wrong.

With Mirer growing in confidence, Seattle reeled off three consecutive victories, and many figured they might be better than ever.

Wrong again.

It would prove to be somewhere in between.

"We won a few and felt pretty good about it," Mirer said. "Then it started to get real hard. All of a sudden, a lot of blitzing. People had a chance to see what we could do, what I was doing successfully, and they started taking that away from us. It was a little bit easier at first when we caught them off guard. Hopefully, it gets easier down the road."

Probably not today against the Raiders, who lead the NFL in pass defense, are third in defense overall and have beaten Seattle seven times in a row.

But none of that will mean much today without a Raider running game. Without one, the stretch run won't go far.

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