Despite putting together a 15-point fourth quarter, the Pittsburgh Steelers couldn’t salvage a game that went wrong right from the start, falling 21-18 in Oakland on Sunday.
Raiders quarterback and western Pennsylvania native Terrelle Pryor ran 93 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, and Oakland kept rolling in the early going, building leads of 14-0 after one quarter and 21-3 at the half. The Steelers got scores from Emmanuel Sanders and Le’Veon Bell in the final 12 minutes, but couldn’t recover a late onside kick and had their two-game winning streak broken.
With the loss, the Steelers (2-5) dropped a game behind the Raiders (3-4) in the AFC wild-card race, in which 4-3 San Diego currently holds the final playoff spot. Pittsburgh had seemingly found new life after an 0-4 start, but will have to gird up for a trip to New England next Sunday to stay on the periphery of the postseason chase.
The Steelers battled sloppiness and ineffectiveness for most of the afternoon at O.co Coliseum, highlighted by Ben Roethlisberger‘s two interceptions, Shaun Suisham‘s two missed field goals and a blocked punt that directly set up Oakland’s second touchdown of the first quarter.
The Raiders were far from perfect themselves, as Pryor was picked off twice and Jacoby Ford lost a fumble early in the fourth that jumpstarted the Steelers’ rally. But Oakland had more positives than negatives in its third straight win over Pittsburgh, including two touchdowns from Darren McFadden and a defensive effort that limited the Steelers until the final moments.
Following Pryor’s electrifying long touchdown, the Steelers went three-and-out on their first possession, but their second try was even worse. Pittsburgh once again gained a single yard in three plays, then Zoltan Mesko‘s punt was blocked by Rashad Jennings, giving the Raiders the ball 26 yards from the end zone. McFadden punched it in five plays later, making it 14-0.
Pittsburgh seemed to get going late in the first when Troy Polamalu intercepted Pryor and, minutes later, Suisham knocked in a 47-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 11 points. However, McFadden capped an 11-play, 72-yard drive with a direct-snap touchdown rush midway through the second quarter.
Suisham, who had been perfect on field goal attempts entering the game, misfired from 34 yards just before intermission, wasting a Cortez Allen interception with a minute left in the half. The third quarter didn’t start any better, with Suisham pushing a 32-yarder right to squander a 16-play, nine-minute drive.
Although the Steelers moved the ball to start the second half, their lack of urgency was evident until the fourth quarter began. A Roethlisberger pick appeared to end the comeback chances until Ford coughed up the ball after a short reception, giving the visitors glorious field position.
An apparent touchdown pass to tight end Heath Miller was reversed via replay, but Roethlisberger rebounded to hit Sanders for a nine-yard score on third down to make it 21-10 with 12:11 to play. A 44-yard Antonio Brown punt return gave Pittsburgh another short field moments later until Big Ben was picked off by Terry Porter at the Oakland 20 with under seven minutes to go.
The Steelers drove 83 yards in three minutes on their following possession, which ended with Bell’s short TD plunge and Sanders’ two-point conversion run. Oakland ran out all but the final 18 seconds after recovering Suisham’s onside kick.
Roethlisberger completed 29 of 45 passes for 275 yards, but he was sacked five times and the Steelers managed just 35 yards on 19 rushing attempts. Sanders caught seven balls for a team-high 88 yards, while Brown grabbed nine for 82.
Pittsburgh held Pryor to 88 yards passing on 10 completions, although the Raiders ran for 197 yards as a team, including McFadden’s 73 on 24 carries. Safety Ryan Clark led the team in tackles with 12.
The Steelers will hunt win No. 3 next Sunday in Foxboro, Mass., as they challenge the AFC East-leading Patriots at 4:25 p.m.