Oakland Raiders vs Pittsburgh Steelers Postgame Wrap: Steel Will

Justin Smith – Sep 25, 2012

Toughness. Resiliency. Grit. 

Three words that you would not have used to describe the 2012 Oakland Raiders after they had no contingency for a lost long snapper against the Chargers and wilted like hothouse flowers in the MIami heat last weekend. 

Yet there they were, answering every blow by the Steelers with one of their own, until they loomed over the fallen Black & Yellow carcass of a team who went home stunned at the results of a game in which they dominated time of possession and yardage.

The Raiders got the ball to open the game, and Denarius Moore slipped on the infield dirt - which is a travesty of the highest order, an almost billion-dollar NFL franchise having a baseball diamond in the middle of their field - which allowed Ryan Clark to jump the pass and intercept Carson Palmer. Clark returned it deep into Raider territory, and the Steelers punched it in for an early 7-0 lead. 

Due to the dramatics of the early slate of games, the Jets-Dolphins and Titans-Lions assured that I was unable to watch the first quarter of the Raider game. My heart sank when I saw 7-0 that quickly; and then rose when I saw 7-7 a few short moments later. 

D-Mac finally broke one! All he has needed all season is one hole that got him past the line of scrimmage; he got it, and boom! 64 yards to the house! 

But the Raiders depleted secondary, playing with cast-offs Joselio Hanson and Pat Lee, a repositioned Michael Huff, some dude selling peanuts that showed good section coverage skills, and Dennis Allen in disguise, was picked on by Big Ben all day. 

The Steelers promptly threw the ball right down the Raiders' throats on the next possesion to take a 14-7 lead. The Raiders vaunted - and at this point overrated honestly - front four generated absolutely no pass rush despite the Steelers line being weak, Roethlisberger considering it some kind of rite of manhood to take sacks whenever possible, and Big Ben dropping back nearly forty times in the first half alone. 

The Raiders, routinely among league leaders in sacks, have exactly three this season. Jason Tarver is supposed to be some kind of Walter White-style "Mad Chemist" but thus far we've seen little of the blue from Tarver and more of a stepped on, 60% purity type of defense too reminiscent of  teams past. 

Granted with injuries to starting CB's Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer, the release of Stanford Routt, Chris Johnson, and DeMarcus Van Dyke and the practice squadation of Chimdi Chekwa there is little to no depth in the secondary, and therefore Tarver is forced into more base defenses as he protects the back end. 

But a pass rush also protects the back end; and Roethlisberger completed 72% of his passes for 384 yards and 4 touchdowns because there was no pass rush. 

However, the Raiders did force their first turnover of the year, a fumble by Steelers RB Jonathan Dwyer, when both Rolando McClain and Desmond Bryant got excellent penetration on a second quarter run. That fumble led directly to Palmer finding DHB in the back corner of the end zone on a beautiful fade to tie the game at 14 each. 

Carson Palmer was efficient, but the nature of the game made the first half statistics very lopsided. Despite it only being 17-14 Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger had nearly 300 yards and two TD's at halftime, and had attempted over 30 passes after leading a last-minute FG drive. 

Palmer, on the other had, had less than 100 yards at halftime and had less than 20 pass attempts. Yet the teams were separated by only 3 points, despite the Steelers possessing the ball for over twenty minutes. 

This was a reversal of offensive fortune for Palmer and the Raiders, who had put up yardage in the previous two games but had precious little in the way of actual production to show for it. 

The Steelers continued to fire the ball at will, picking on Pat Lee, Huff, and Joselio Hanson and finding Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace at will. Roethlisberger marched them into the red zone, where he scrambled long enough to read Ulysses - the unabridged version - before finding a wide open Wallace in the back of the end zone. 24-14, Steelers. 

The Raiders, though, showed more grit and toughness than expected by taking the ensuing possession back on a nice kick return, and then draining some time of the clock - much needed after their defense spent almost 2/3 of the first half on the field - before Palmer found Richard Gordon wide open in the end zone for his first career touchdown. 24-21, Steelers. 

Just one stop. That's all the Raiders seemed to need, as their offense was humming along, Palmer was finding open receivers, McFadden was doing just enough to keep the defense honest, and the tight ends were stepping up a little bit. 

But it wasn't to be. The Raiders pass defense was simply non-existent this game - it didn't matter whether it was Huff, Lee, Hanson, or any of the linebackers trying to cover Heath Miller. Nobody could stop Roethlisberger from doing whatever he wanted, and he clearly wanted to win. 

The Steelers took the ball from the Oakland 48 and marched eight plays in five minutes to go up 31-21, and all members of Raider Nation were, whether conscious or not; whether they will admit it or not, deflated. A ten point lead against a team who they hadn't stopped all game? Seemed daunting. 

/articleimages/palmer-hands-to-mcfadden.jpgWhen the Raiders got the ball back and Palmer fired two straight incompletions, it seemed over. The Steelers would get the ball back, score again, and it would be all she wrote. 

Only Palmer completed a third down pass. And then another. And another. In an improbable change from the first half, where the Raiders were 0/4 on third downs, the Raiders were 7/8 on third down in the second half, enabling them to move the ball, rest their defense, and keep pace with the Steelers. 

This drive covered eleven plays and five minutes, giving the Raiders defense a bit of a rest. But it was something that happened on this drive that ultimately led the Raiders to victory. 

Darrius Heyward-Bey, having made a nice TD catch earlier in the game, beat coverage down the seam. Palmer threw it to him just a beat late. Heyward-Bey leapt, as did Steelers' safeties Ryan Clark and Ryan Mundy. DHB was sandwiched between them, with Mundy clearly launching himself helmet-first at the defenseless receiver. 

No, the ensuing 15-yard penalty was NOT what changed the scope of the game and inspired the Raiders. There was, inexplicably, no penalty called on Mundy. It was the fact that DHB was unconcious before he even hit the ground, resulting in the poor guy having to be immobilized and put onto a stretcher for the second time in a calendar year as the result of a violent football play. 

Heyward-Bey stayed on the field for a full ten minutes being attended to by medical staff and team trainers. It was a scary scene; especially when it took him a good minute longer to give the thumbs up than it usually takes others in the same situation. 

But the thumbs up was a spark to the team. Palmer showed some excellent movement in the pocket, spinning away from pressure and finding Moore in the end zone for Moore's first touchdown of the season and once again it was a three point game, 31-28 Pittsburgh. 

The Raiders came into this game with two sacks, no forced fumbles and no interceptions. In orther words, not a single big play from the defense all season. And the way the Steelers were moving the ball, the only way the Raiders had stopped them thus far was forcing a fumble. 

So they decided to do it again. Antonio Brown, who had fumbled earlier when going in for a touchdown but recovered it in the end zone with no harm, was stood up. While he was fighting for extra yardage, Pat Lee reached in and stripped the ball cleanly. The Raiders recovered, and promptly marched down quickly for the tying field goal. They left themselves plenty of time for one or two more offensive possessions if the Steelers were to score. 

The Raider defense had been in trouble all evening, getting torched through the air. Yet they stiffened when it counted. The Steelers took the ball on their 20 yard line with 6:30 left after the game-tying field goal. They ran seven plays; and gained only 16 yards. 

They managed one first down but had to punt to the Raiders with a little under 2:00 left. The Raiders took over on their own 25, needing at least 40 yards for a 55 yard field goal - not easy, but certainly makable for Janikowski. 

They got over 50 yards instead, finally kneeling at the 26 on the right hash in the grass for optimal kicking placement for Seabass. 

He nailed it. Not even a hint of hesitation; just nailed it right down the middle. Raiders win. 

To a man after the game the Raiders said the hit on DHB inspired them to play hard and win for him. Nobody claimed it was a dirty hit from Mundy nor was anyone upset at the Steelers or Mundy as a result; they simply said that their brother was down, and they were going to pick him up with a victory. 

This was needed. 1-2, with the parity flying around the NFL right now, is respectable and still very much in the hunt for any number of playoff spots. Throw in the fact that the Chargers and Broncos lost yesterday, and you have just one game separating the AFC West. It's looking like a long, mediocre slog to the finish for this division yet again. 

Being 0-3 would've been devastating. Many people jumped the hope ship last week when the Raiders laid an egg against Miami. But there were good reasons - albeit you need to overcome these things if you want to be an elite team - that the Raiders lost to San Diego and Miami. 

They had no contingency for losing their long snapper. Poor coaching and preparedness, but a good reason they lost to the Chargers. They simply couldn't keep their energy in the second half in Miami. Happens every single time they play there; and the league owes them a year off or at least to send the 'Fins to Oakland for once. 

Thus, it's not a huge surprise they won this game. It was good to see the tight ends - Myers is showing he's a potential solid every-down option and Gordon and Ausberrry contibuted nicely - providing big plays and excellent blocking. Thought to be a weakness, these three guys are showing they may make it a strength by end of season. 

McFadden had one big play, another smaller play, and more par for the course struggles. He seems to becoming more comfortable in the zone scheme, but he misses cuts and needs to get better himself. Once he does; sky is the limit. 

Palmer was really solid this game. He made all the throws needed, and didn't get rattled at all regardless of score or situation. He continually led them back with strong throws and leadership in the huddle. Palmer made this his team today. 

/articleimages/allen-sideline.jpgDennis Allen had some good moments too. The Raiders only committed three penalties, Allen won an important challenge that overturned a potential first-down when the Steelers were dominating the game, and he made a gutsy call on an onside kick early in the third quarter that didn't pan out, but was a great call for the time and situation of the game. And should've worked; Mike Goodson simply dropped a perfect kick. 

In the land of overreactions from week to week, the Raiders are now Super Bowl contenders!! Naw; but they also aren't the slag-heap detritus they were labelled last week either. 

They are, like almost every team in the NFL at this point, somewhere in between. Sunday's performance, though, gives realistic hope that they are closer to the top than the bottom. 

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