What a game. The Raiders and Steelers battled it out for a full 60 minutes in a back and forth match-up that exemplified the long history between these two storied franchises. It was a high-scoring affair that saw the Raiders come from behind three times to tie it. But through it all, the lead changed just once-- on the Raiders' game-winning field goal as time expired.
Those old 70's match-ups between the Steelers and Raiders were more known for both teams' vicious defenses. That was not the case at all in this game. This one was all about offense and the 34-31 final score was evidence of it. Although the Raiders did get their first turnovers of the season. They forced four fumbles and recovered two of them.
Based on what we saw in the Raiders' first two games this season, this performance was quite unexpected. They had scored a total of 27 points this season and eclipsed that total plus a touchdown in just this one game.
Here are the players who were the reason for the turnaround and those who aren't quite up with their teammates.
His 209 yards passing doesn't seem impressive. But he ran the Raiders' offense like a well oiled machine. He read the Steelers defense and audibled into the big 64-yard McFadden touchdown run in the first half. Then later in the first half, he dropped in a perfect fade pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey in the right corner of the endzone. Both scores brought the Raiders into a tie with the Steelers and they went into halftime down 17-14.
The second half is where Palmer did most of his damage. He was as accurate as I have seen him since joining the Raiders. He had three nice passes on the Raiders' first drive of the second half. A 12-yard pass to Denarius Moore on third and ten, a timing route on a comebacker to Rod Streater, and to finished it off, a one yard pass across the middle to Richard Gordon for a touchdown.
Next drive he was back at it. He had completions on four straight plays to help lead the Raiders 70 yards into scoring position. That's when he threw over the middle to DHB who was knocked unconscious and layed on the field for several minutes. When play finally resumed, the Palmer didn't miss a beat. A ten yard pass to Reece set the Raiders up in first and goal at the 4-yard line and two plays later, Palmer rolled left and found Moore breaking open and hit him perfectly for a touchdown. It brought the Raiders to within three of the Steelers at 28-31. He was 7 of 9 for 86 yards and a touchdown on that drive.
In the second half Palmer was 18-24 (75%) for 172 yards and 2 touchdowns. Overall, he had his best completion percentage (70.9), passer rating (103.1) and most touchdowns (3) of the young season. And most importantly, he was finishing drives.
Coming into this game, the Raiders didn't have any turnovers. Philip Wheeler was on a mission to change all that in this game and he accomplished that mission and then some.
Two plays into the Steelers' second possession, he had a pass defended which he nearly intercepted. Then he had another pass defended on Miller which ended the following possession.
In the third quarter, he nearly took a touchdown off the board for the Steelers as he forced a fumble at the goal line. The Steelers were lucky to recover the ball. On the Steelers' next series, they weren't so lucky. Pat Lee forced a fumble and Wheeler recovered it for the turnover. The Raiders took the short field and tied the game at 31-31 on a field goal.
On the Steelers' final drive, Wheeler forced another fumble (Steelers recovered) and had the final tackle of the day. With the Steelers in 2nd and 15, he tackled the receiver for six yards and on the next play Roethlisberger threw incomplete to end the drive.
How's this for a line: Raiders leading tackler with 11 total tackles (7 solo), 2 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery.
We finally got to see Darren McFadden run the way we know he is capable. And we didn't have to wait long either. On the Raiders' third offensive play, he took the ball, saw a gap in the line, and sprinted through it. He juked the safety into grasping air and then turned on the jets 64 yards to the endzone.
On the Raiders' first drive of the second half, he had a 16-yard run which set the table for the score. The final nine yards of that drive were all McFadden. He had two aggressive runs from the ten yards line. The first he looked to be going down but propped himself up on a down player and ran for a five yard gain. The next, he fought off several would-be tacklers and reached to the half yard line. The Raiders would score two plays later.
On the next drive he picked up crucial yardage on two runs which helped lead to the game tying field goal. Then on the game-winning drive, he stepped up and nailed a player in blitz pickup to give Palmer the time he needed to connect with Hagan on a 17-yard gain which put the Raiders in scoring position and put away the Steelers.
A lot of people like to talk about how they miss Hue Jackson. I understand the sentiment with regard to play calling. He was a great play caller. He was a great offensive coordinator. But as a head coach? Not so much. As a game manager? Hell no. Being a game manager is possibly the most important job of a head coach. It is something that first time head coach Dennis Allen has in spades. He even mixed in a bit of Huebris trickery when he called for an onsides kick. It was perfectly executed except for Mike Goodson whiffing on the catch.
He managed this game with near perfection. There were a few instances in which you could see evidence of it. There was a pass to Heath Miller which was ruled a catch and as the Steelers scrambled to get to the line before the Raiders personnel upstairs could look at the replay, Allen said don't bother and threw the challenge flag well ahead of time. He knew what he saw and didn't hesitate. He was right, It wasn't a catch.
The final drive of the game was also executed like a veteran coach. The Raiders moved into scoring position as Hagan caught the ball and ran out of bounds to stop the clock. This allowed for the Raiders to use a play for the sole purpose of moving the ball off the dirt and onto the grass for a more clean placement and kick for Janikowski.
Greg Knapp deserves some credit because it was the offense that was clicking in the game. But the changes were head coach approved (and likely insisted upon). The offense had far more no-huddles, featured Marcel Reece more, and had plays designed the focus on McFadden's strengths.
Mr automatic had two late field goals for the Raiders from 32 and 43 yards out. He also had three touchbacks on six kickoffs. One of the kickoffs, the Raiders tried an onsides kick. Janikowski executed it perfectly but Mike Goodson watched it go right through his hands and out of bounds. That would have been yet another reason to celebrate Janikowski in this game. For now, kicking the game-winning 43 yard field goal as time expired will have to be enough (it is plenty).
On the Raiders first offensive possession he had a key block on a 16-yard run, a 12-yard catch on third and 10 and a 4-yard catch to set them up at the ten yard line. The Raiders would score a TD three plays later to pull within three points at 24-21.
He bookended the following drive with an 18-yard catch to start it off and the six yard touchdown to end it. On the touchdown, he saw Palmer roll out left and broke off his route and came left to give him a target away from the defender. The touchdown was an answer to the Steelers touchdown to bring the Raiders back within three at 31-28.
The next drive, he drew a pass interference and then had a 5-yard catch to help set up Janikowski for a chipshot 32-yard field goal. He led the Raiders with five catches.
A very solid overall game for Wisniewski both as a center calling the defense, as a run blocker, and pass blocker. Right off the top, he laid the key block which opened the huge hole that Darren McFadden ran through for his 64-yard touchdown. He blocked on a few other runs as well. He also shut down Steelers nose tackle, Casey Hampton who had just one assist in the game.
He had a 16-yard catch on the Raiders first offensive play of the game. They scored a touchdown on the next play. Later he had an 18-yard catch on the team's fourth touchdown drive. He had a 7-yard catch on the drive in which the Raiders tied the score at 31-31 on a field goal. Then he had arguably the most important catch of this game when he came down with a 15-yard catch on third and ten on the final drive. He was hit in the head by Steelers safety Ryan Mundy and received a concussion but he kept the drive alive and allowed the Raiders to drive for the win. He led the Raiders in receiving with 4 catches for 55 yards.
Mike Goodson- For the second week in a row, he made a big play in limited playing time. This week is was a 51-yard kickoff return.
Darrius Heyward-Bey- The last time DHB heard the words "Honorable Mention" it was Cris Carter screaming it ad nauseum after the Raiders drafted him. This time he gets it for the savvy fade catch he made to give the Raiders their second touchdown of the day. He gave a little shove on his defender which was not enough to get a flag and pulled in the over-the-shoulder grab. He later had an 11-yard grab on the Raiders final touchdown drive.