OAKLAND — The Raiders played not to lose in the second half Sunday. That's usually a recipe for disaster, but thanks to a dogged defensive effort and a couple of fortunate breaks, they came away with a tense 21-18 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers at O.co Coliseum that had the crowd on the edge of its seats — even the large numbers who were wearing yellow and waving Terrible Towels.
"We wanted to make sure we gave the fans their money's worth," said Oakland head coach Dennis Allen, able to joke after his team had improved to 3-4.
But this was anything but a textbook win. The Raiders gained 93 yards on their first play from scrimmage, 151 over the rest of the first half, and a measly 35 in the second half. In other words, the offense went on full auto-pilot, relying on the defense to grind out the victory.
Fortunately, the Steelers didn't have the firepower to get it done. They came in with virtually no running attack to speak of, then lost three guards to injuries during the game. Ben Roethlisberger wound up with 275 passing yards and engineered some late-game theatrics, but the Raiders sacked him five times and came up with just enough big defensive stops to thwart him.
The biggest included three plays by three different defensive backs in the fourth quarter. Mike Jenkins intercepted a deep pass by Roethlisberger a minute into the quarter, safety Brandian Ross broke up a potential big gain on third-and-15 with 9:25 left and corner Tracy Porter picked off a pass — tipped by Jenkins and then by Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown — at the Oakland 21 with 6:46 remaining.
"We play defense, it doesn't matter how long," Porter said. "If we had to have been on the field for 60 minutes or 60 seconds, that's what we have to do. Our job is to play defense."
Those three plays helped end four Steelers possessions, but sandwiched in between was Roethlisberger's 9-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders that cut the Raiders' lead to 21-10.
Things got even more diceyer in the closing minutes when Roethlisberger engineered an 83-yard drive in just 2:58, running back Le'Veon Bell finishing it off with a 2-yard plunge. The Steelers then executed a 2-point conversion on an end-around to Sanders. That made the score 21-18 with 1:24 left, and Raiderland got nervous.
But Rashad Jennings covered Pittsburgh's onside-kick attempt, and the next time the Steelers got the ball, they had no timeouts left and almost the entire field ahead of them. The game ended with Roethlisberger unsuccessfully attempting to line up his offense for one last play at the Pittsburgh 36.
The Raiders' offensive hibernation was massive. After mounting a 72-yard drive in the second quarter (and finishing it with Darren McFadden's 4-yard touchdown run from Wildcat formation), their next nine possessions netted 0 yards, minus-1 yard, 1 yard, 29 yards, minus-4 yards, 3 yards, minus-3 yards, 6 yards and minus-2 yards.
The play-calling got conservative, and the offensive players failed to execute when they had to.
Fortunately, the Raiders did enough in the first half to set up the victory. And it started immediately, with a stunning blow on the first play that set the tone for the game and further established quarterback Terrelle Pryor as a player to watch.