The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders boast the NFL’s best extra-divisional rivalry. The two teams set the Gold standard for competitive contests in the 70’s and any matchup between the two teams commands instant respect.
- This time, however, things were a little different.
For the first time in recent memory, the Steelers and Raiders played a game in which something was at stake. The Steelers entered the game 4-4 trying to get above .500, while the Raiders looked to strengthen their 4-3 record.
For the second time in two weeks, the Steelers found themselves turning over the ball late in the game AND picking off would be touchdowns in the end zone. The fact that the days saw the Steelers defeat the Raiders 28-25 to prevail this week reveals something important about the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers.
Steelers and Raiders Fight It Out at Heinz Field
This was a Steelers-Raiders contest worthy of the series lore. Both teams came to ready to rumble when the game hung in the balance, but both teams also found ways to stumble at critical times. Neither team yielded any quarter, just as neither team lacked for hard hits.
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin often says as little as possible in his post-game comments, but today he could not have been more accurate:
Great fight. We were able to finish one and get a hard-fought victory. Contributions in all three phases, but also lacked execution at times in all phases. We’re not perfect, but good enough to win today and that’s what’s important.
Extreme highs and almost as equally extreme lows characterized this edition of Steelers vs. the Raiders. On the positive side you had:
- Michael Mitchell’s jarring hit on an unsuspecting Latavius Muarry which forced the first turnover of the day
- Antonio Brown’s record smashing 17 catch 284 yard performance
- Ross Cockrell’s end zone interception
- DeAngelo Williams‘ 170 yard rushing performance
- Bud Dupree blocked a punt
Those plays were all impressive, yet, they must be balanced by acknowledgement of some costly miscues.
- Ben Roethlisberger, misfiring early and often
- Martavis Bryant again looking like he toked up before the game
- Antonio Brown fumbling a punt with the game on the line
- A pass rush that touched Derek Carr just once
As Mike Tomlin is wont to say, the Steelers don’t add style points when they win, nor do they count moral victories when they lose. The big plays by the Steelers leaders were necessary for victory, but they were in effect canceled out by the slipups mentioned above.
Two key factors tipped the balance in the Steelers favor.
Praising the Steelers “Non-Highlight” Reel Plays vs. the Raiders
Football is the ultimate team game and the Steelers win over the Raiders offers a revealing example of why. The Williamses, the Browns, the Mitchells and the Cockrells will justly win accolades for coming up big when it counted.
- But we must add other names alongside their names to give credit where credit is due.
We can start with Jarvis Jones, Vince Williams, and Anthony Chickillo. Each of these men were recovered fumbles and they succeeded in doing that because they played focused football until the whistle. Add Roosevelt Nix to the list for forcing one of those fumbles. Turnovers have been in short supply in Pittsburgh for the past several season, but this year the Steelers are reversing that trend and winning games because of it.
Antwon Blake also deserves credit. He, along with the rest of the secondary, began dishing out hard hits early in the game. By the second quarter it became clear that the Raiders were having ball security issues, and eventually the men in Silver and Black started putting it on the ground.
The offensive line played in relative anonymity vs. the Raiders, yet they kept Ben Roethlisberger and Landry Jones relatively clean, and more importantly opened up holes for DeAngelo Williams against a stingy Raiders defense.
The Steelers beat the Raiders because a lot of players made plays that will never see the light of an ESPN highlight reel, but Steel Curtain Rising enthusatically recognizes their contributions here. Nonetheless, their efforts would have all been for naught had it not been for one other characteristic.
Resiliency Fuels Steelers Over Raiders
Even the greatest athletes make mistakes. Runners trip. Divers miss their marks. Goalies misjudge penalty kicks. NFL wide receivers drop passes, star quarterbacks over throw their targets, and even the surest handed return men muff punts.
- The Pittsburgh Steelers saw those kinds of mistakes from three of its biggest stars on offense.
— FABO == 1 n Only (@Fabo_SUB2King) November 9, 2015
But they prevailed vs. the Raiders because each man picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, buckled their chin straps and went back to work.
And so it was that:
- Ben Roethlisberger misfired badly many times in the first half, but rebounded to throw two touchdown passes
- Landry Jones played poorly in his first start vs. Kansas City, but came out to close the game with confidence
- Martavis Bryant had several bone-headed drops, but caught one at the end, and willed himself into the end zone
- Antonio Brown fumbled the ball away on a punt, but atoned on a spectacular 57 yard pass on third down
That resiliency is what fueled the Pittsburgh Steelers over the Oakland Raiders on this autumn day at Heinz Field. However else they finish the 2015 season, let it be said that if you knock this group of Pittsburgh Steelers down, they WILL pull themselves back up.