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Oakland Raiders Postgame Recap: Raiders 27, Steelers 24

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Was the third time a charm for Bruce Gradkowski in Pittsburgh?
[via a.espncdn.com]

The Oakland Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers renewed their rivalry from the 1970s today at Heinz Field, with the Steelers (6-5) looking to make a playoff push at the expense of our Raiders (3-8). Pittsburgh had lost three straight coming in, and are trying to overcome injuries to stars Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu. With Roethlisberger back, let's see if the Raiders could stop the potent Steeler attack on the road in a very, very tough and cold environment. It was sure to be a formidable attack for the men dressed in silver and black.

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Ben Roethlisberger was great in return from injury for Pittsburgh. [via a.espncdn.com]

First Quarter: It started off all bad, with Stefan Logan returning the opening kickoff all the way to the 21 yard line. A win for the defense, however, as the Steelers trotted out Jeff Reed to kick a 33-yard field goal. Stanford Routt made a good play on the ball on a pass intended for Santonio Holmes. A good return by Gary Russell put the offense in nice field position, which was at our own 42 yard line. Faced with a fourth down on the first drive, the Raiders went for it and  converted on a play-action pass to Justin Fargas. On the second fourth down situation, needing just a yard, head coach Tom Cable opted for a 48-yard field goal from Sebastian Janikowski. The game was tied, 3-3. On Pittsburgh's next possession, a big run stop by Tommy Kelly set up a long third down. Chris Johnson let the ball slip through his hands, however, but the Steelers had to punt. Starting at our own 36, a play-action pass from Bruce Gradkowski to Johnnie Lee Higgins was a really nice 19-yard play; however, a loss in the backfield and a delay of game penalty cost us nine of those yards and a down. It led to a punt. A big-time 60-yard run, the longest by the Steelers this season, by Rashard Mendenhall had the Steelers in business. Another big play doomed the Raiders. The defense didn't let up, though, and the Steelers were denied on a quarterback sneak on fourth down just about five yards away from the end zone. A couple of Justin Fargas runs and the quarter had expired.

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A big play by the secondary, specifically Hiram Eugene, was a stop we needed to end the half. [via a.espncdn.com]

Second Quarter: The Raiders began the quarter with an important third down. Beating William Gay, a pass intended for Louis Murphy was just a bit too far. Shane Lechler came out to boot his second punt of the game. Two big plays later, a big pass to Hines Ward set up a beautiful touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes. Nnamdi Asomugha hasn't been involved all day up to this point. Pittsburgh is smart, as they take a 10-3 lead early in the second quarter. A questionable holding call on Mario Henderson negated a pretty nice scamper by Gradkowski and a good block by Higgins on the left side of the field. A short gain by Darren McFadden, who at this point has four carries on seven yards if you take away that  six-yard run, set up a very long third down. Another big play from Gradkowski to Higgins converts the third down. A couple anemic plays set up a third down with eight yards needed. A running back pass fell short as Michael Bush overthrew Chaz Schilens. An amazing curveball kick by Janikowski cut the Pittsburgh lead to 10-6. Some penalties and a few not-so-good plays forced the Steelers to punt. A good punt by Daniel Sepulveda forced the Raiders to start from their own five, but a false start on Luke Lawton push Oakland back even further. Three straight runs brought out the punt team once again. Not one of Lechler's best jobs on the punt, Pittsburgh had really good field position at the own 47 with just over three minutes left in the half. Appearing to be heading for the end zone, the Steelers were stopped. Hines Ward was the target in the end zone, but safety Hiram Eugene made an incredible play in the end zone for his first interception of the season. We headed into the half with the Steelers ahead, 10-6, and the Raiders had as many first downs and points as they did penalties.

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Zach Miller and the offense had to take on the physicality of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. [via a.espncdn.com]

Third Quarter: The Raiders began the half with the ball and looking to move the ball en route to points. A big play to Chaz Schilens set the Raiders up in Steelers territory; however, there was a 16-yard loss on an awkward-looking play that went wide to the right with McFadden and then back to Gradkowski. Nonetheless, it was completely ineffective with James Harrison blowing it up in the backfield. Robert Gallery was also injured on the play, so that's even worse. With Samson Satele out and only two backups available, you can do the math. This is some Golden State Warriors stuff! An incomplete pass set up an impossible third down that went nowhere, basically. A 55-yard boot that skipped into the end zone gave Pittsburgh its first second half possession. The Steelers opened up with a heavy dose of Rashard Mendenhall. Slowing them down, Oakland forced a Pittsburgh punt and out come the Raiders' offense led by Bruce Gradkowski. Pressure got to Gradkowski on that series with two starting linemen out.  A sack, a quick pass induced by the blitz and a pass knocked down due to the corner blitz forced a three-and-out. Pittsburgh had it once again with five minutes to go approaching in the quarter. Unfortunately, Tyvon Branch was helped off the field due to an injury and the Steelers kept on moving the ball into Oakland territory. A big play on third down, though, by Trevor Scott put the brakes on what looked like a promising drive for Pittsburgh. The third quarter was over with the Steelers still leading by the same halftime score, 10-6.

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Rookie Louis Murphy tip-toes down the sidelines for his first of two scores. [via a.espncdn.com]

Fourth Quarter: A field attempt was no good as the quarter began, and the Raiders had some nice field position. They have really had some good field position all day for the most part. We couldn't complain. Three yards on two carries by Fargas had the Raiders needing seven yards on third down on their first fourth quarter drive. Short on third down, a big fourth down conversion for the second time on the day kept the drive moving relatively deep into Steelers territory. A big third down conversion, just the fourth of the day on 14 tries, set up a shocking 17-yard strike from Gradkowski to Schilens. With 8:21 to play in regulation, Oakland had taken its first lead of the day as it was a 13-10 Raiders advantage; however, the lead would last only 68 seconds. A 31-yard return by Logan -- hurting us again -- gave Roethlisberger and the Steelers good field position. I've said "good field position" a lot today. On the first play of the drive, Roethlisberger's laser throw to Santonio Holmes set up a two-yard touchdown run by Mendenhall. The quick-strike offense worked both ways. On just the third play on the drive, a play-action pass from Gradkowski to Louis Murphy was an amazing 75-yard touchdown. It was Murphy's first grab of the day and it couldn't have come at an opportune time. In less than three minutes, we had witnessed three lead changes. Oakland had taken a 20-17 lead. The Raiders defense struggled to stop the Steelers' offensive attack, however, as they marched all the down to the 11 yard line with just two minutes to play in regulation. The first play back from the two-minute warning, Roethlisberger hooked up with Ward for a touchdown pass to give Pittsburgh a 24-20 lead with 1:56 to go. Oakland had one last drive to try to steal this game from Pittsburgh. A big play to Higgins moved the ball to our 29 yard line. Two straight incomplete passes set up a long third down, and Schilens hurt himself on the play. With already Darrius Heyward-Bey out, it's not something we really needed. Todd Watkins moved the chains on a big third down crossing route. An incomplete pass on the next play stopped the clock with just 53 seconds remaining and the Raiders needing 59 yards. Gradkowski found Schilens at the 40 yard line on another big play from Bruce. A very painful injury occurred on the play, however, as William Gay was accidentally hit on the helmet by the helmet of teammate Ryan Mundy. Resuming play with just one timeout, a jump ball came down into the hands of Louis Murphy. A penalty on the Steelers pushed the Raiders to the 11 a few plays later, and then Louis Murphy struck yet again. His second touchdown grab of the day, an 11-yard variety, put the Raiders ahead, 28-24, and ahead for good and for the win.

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"Mom, I did pretty well this time!" [via cdn1.sbnation.com]

The Report Card: I'll give grades to the pass offense, rush offense, pass defense, rush defense and special teams. Of course, you're welcome to give your own grades in the comments.

  • Pass Offense: A -- Wow, really? Yes, really! Bruce Gradkowski was amazing with a career-high 300 yards and three touchdowns. The receivers were catching passes. Zach Miller was reliable. There's really nothing else to say here. The passing offense was superb.
  • Rush Offense: C- -- Justin Fargas ran it pretty well, but Darren McFadden didn't. Overall, a team average of 3.9 yards just won't cut it. The passing game picked up the slack here, but the rushing game started out solid and allowed for the pass game to grow.
  • Pass Defense: D -- The passing defense couldn't stop Roethlisberger, who was 18-for-24 with 278 yards and led two great drives to keep the Steelers in the game the best that he could. It was pretty poor on our part, particularly with the pass rush.
  • Rush Defense: C+ -- Aside from Rashard Mendenhall's 60-yard run, he was mostly kept in check with just 43 yards on 19 carries excluding that monster run. He was able to escape and get into the end zone, and big runs do count. They have to limit the big play.
  • Special Teams: B -- The kick returns were better, there weren't any punt returns, Sebastian Janikowski nailed every kick and Shane Lechler was pretty good as usual. Overall, it was very solid. Room for improvement, sure, but I am not disappointed at all by the effort from special teams.

My Thoughts and Tidbits: Wow, wow, wow! That was an amazing victory. Scoring a season-high 27 points is nothing to sneeze at, and to do it on the road against a great defense is something to be proud of. Let's keep this good feeling going next week against the Washington Redskins, who are locked in a tight battle with the New Orleans Saints as I type. Bruce Gradkowski has a lot of heart. Louis Murphy is a gamer. Murphy was really instrumental in the fourth quarter, with grabs of 75, 29 and 11 yards respectively that included two scores. He gets my vote for player of the game. That guy just works hard every single game and I love his physical swagger. Other wide receivers stepped up, too, totaling 248 yards on 12 grabs. I think that about sums it up for me. Enjoy the win, you guys. We earned it.

Postgame Links:

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