It wasn’t ideal. But it was better. And that was enough to win.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ struggles on third down have been well documented on this site over the last month. Overall, they finished 6 of 17 in yesterday’s 38-35 win over the Oakland Raiders, still surely far from an acceptable level in the eyes of Mike Tomlin.
But the Steelers moved the sticks in the game’s most crucial moments, going 3 of 5 in the fourth quarter. To be fair, they weren’t terribly difficult conversions – all three came on third and short. But for a team that hasn’t converted 40% of their conversions over the last four games, they feel like victories.
Facing a third and one early in the fourth quarter, DeAngelo Williams muscled through cornerback D.J. Hayden to keep the drive alive. Three plays later, on another third and one, Ben Roethlisberger fired a quick screen to Antonio Brown for a three yard gain. Martavis Bryant danced around several Raiders on the ensuing play for a 14 yard touchdown.
Fast forward to the game’s ultimate play. 3rd and 2 on their own 28 with 55 seconds remaining in a tie game. Landry Jones calmly hooked up with Brown who scampered away from two Raiders for a 57 yard pickup that would allow Chris Boswell to boot the game-winning field goal.
To really frame it, entering the fourth quarter Sunday, the Steelers had converted only 16 of 59 third downs since Week 5 against the San Diego Chargers. That’s 27%, barely a quarter of the time. And then they managed to pull themselves together and convert 60% to get the win. It’s a small step but a step forward.
There’s no doubt the Steelers are going to have to get better as the season goes on. But they made big plays in equally big moments that, as Tomlin would say, let them walk out of stadiums victorious.