For the second week in a row, the Raiders were in prime position to upset a playoff contender in Oakland. This time, they didn’t let it slip through their fingers.
Three lost fumbles cost the Raiders (2-11) a week ago. But a go-ahead drive in the closing minutes and a game-saving tackle in the closing seconds were enough for Oakland to overcome a blown interception and costly fumble. The result: Jon Gruden‘s third win since his Oakland return, a 24-21 barn-burner over the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-4-1)
Through the first 61 games of his NFL career, Derek Carrier had as many touchdown catches as the fan sitting in section 313, row 12, seat 21. After bringing in his first last week, the veteran tight end grabbed his second with 21 seconds left on the clock.
The winning drive, an eight-play, 75-yard march that lasted 2:34 seconds, was necessitated by a matching effort from Ben Roethlisberger, who returned from a first-half rib injury for what seemed to be a victorious 75-yard scoring effort.
Roethlisberger put Pittsburgh ahead with a one-yard touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster, matching one the duo teamed up for in the closing seconds of the first half — coming five plays after Karl Joseph had an interception slip through his unmolested hands in the endzone.
Even missing two-quarters of play, Roethlisberger had enough time to attempt 29 passes, completing 25 for 282 yards and two scores.
But Derek Carr, whose no-contact fumbled gave away possession well within field-goal range with the Raiders trialing 14-10 and 2:31 remaining in the third, matched his opposite number with a six-yard strike to Carrier on fourth and goal less than three minutes later.
Carr completed 25 of his 34 passes for 322 yards and two touchdowns, and slid perfect strikes betwixt and between Steeler defenders all afternoon for huge completions in the biggest situations. Once again, Jared Cook emerged as his top target, grabbing seven passes for 116 yards. Jordy Nelson and Marcell Ateman contributed 48 and 45 yards respectively.
None of the five catches Seth Roberts made on the afternoon were bigger than a 39-yard grab fresh out of the two-minute warning to put the ball on the Pittsburgh seven.
Gruden followed the big pass with an inside run for Jalen Richard, then had his offense huddle as the clock dwindled down. Ninety-one seconds ticked off the clock between Roberts’ catch and Carrier’s winner. It proved to be key.
The Raiders scored three points between their touchdown, a Doug Martin one-yard leap, on the game’s first drive and a Lee Smith touchdown catch with 5:20 left in the game. They never fell out of touch with the Steelers though, thanks in large part to a rock-solid defensive effort.
Roethlisberger spent much of that time on the sideline, but Gareon Conley‘s coverage while bouncing from Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown, who gained just 35 yards, a season-low, on a season low-matching five catches. What may have been Conley’s best performance since he entered the league last season bolstered another strong showing from Tahir Whitehead.
Whitehead, who recorded a game-high 10 tackles, deflected two passes, matching Conley for a game-high, and grabbed the game’s lone interception, grabbing a deflection — a creation of Conley’s coverage on Brown.
The former-Lion’s biggest contribution came with five ticks left on the clock when he ran down Smith-Schuster who, on a hook and lateral from James Washington, was ticketed for six galloping down the left sideline. Shoving the Steeler receiver out-of-bounds kept Oakland from falling behind, and a missed 40-yard field goal by Chris Boswell, his second of the day, brought on the game’s final horn with the Raiders clinging to a three-point win.