Facing a must-win game with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on his way to the hospital to get a foot injury evaluated, and star running Le’Veon Bell watching from home while recovering from surgery, Pittsburgh turned to the one man left that they could count on regardless of the bleak situation. Antonio Brown.
With the game tied at 35-35 and the Steelers facing a 3rd-and-two from their own 28-yard line with just over one minute left in the game, backup quarterback Landry Jones found Brown on a slant for the first down, before the receiver reversed direction and raced all the way down the right sideline for a 57-yard gain to the Raiders 15. Two DeAngelo Williams runs moved the ball to the Oakland one-yard line, before Chris Boswell’s 18-yard chip shot vaulted the Steelers to a 38-35 victory and a 5-4 record.
It looked like it would be a long day for the Steelers defense early on, when the Raiders covered 66 yards in three plays for the game’s initial points, coming on a 22-yard hookup from Derek Carr to Michael Crabtree.
Pittsburgh’s ensuing drive ended in a punt when Roethlisberger overthrew a wide open Brown for what would have been a game-tying touchdown on third down. A quick three-and-out by the Steelers defense deep in Oakland territory helped swing the field position back in favor of Pittsburgh. Boswell capped the team’s nine-play, 43-yard drive with a 34-yard field goal to cut the Raiders lead to 7-3.
The Steelers defense held strong again, and the offense finally found the red zone near the beginning of the third quarter, as Williams plunged in from three yards out on 2nd down. The veteran running back added the two-point conversion by snagging a pass from Roethlisberger in the flat and trotting into the end zone for an 11-7 lead.
The teams exchanged punts before Oakland answered Pittsburgh’s score when Amari Cooper took advantage of a blown coverage to grab a wide open 15-yard touchdown in the end zone. The Raiders defense could not stop Pittsburgh’s attack however, as the Steelers marched 78 yards on nine plays for their second touchdown of the game. Mike Tomlin elected to go for it on 4th-and-inches, and Williams surged into the end zone from three yards out for the go-ahead score to make it 18-14.
After another three-and-out by Oakland, Roethlisberger found Brown for a 19-yard gain to put Boswell in position for a 38-yard triple and a 21-14 lead heading into halftime. After two quarters, Brown already had 10 catches for 180 yards, and he was far from done.
The Raiders got the ball to start the third quarter, and on third down the Steelers defense nearly caused a huge play. Ryan Shazier laid the wood to Latavius Murray after a short catch, popping the ball up in the air before it landed near the sideline. Mike Mitchell raced in to scoop the ball up and jaunt to the end zone, but the safety stepped out of bounds first and only re-established one foot in bounds before the recovery, giving the ball back to Oakland on 4th down. Bud Dupree partially blocked the ensuing punt, but Pittsburgh could do nothing with the excellent field position, punting away from the Raiders 43.
It was Oakland that would strike first in the second half, as Carr led the offense on a length nine-play drive that ended with Clive Walford reeling in a one-yard score after beating Shazier soundly in coverage.
Roethlisberger made a huge mistake on the Steelers next drive, throwing back to the far side of the field late for an easy interception into the arms of David Amerson. The Raiders tried to take advantage of the short field, but Mitchell raced up to crush Murray with a big hit that knocked the running back out and forced a fumble which Jarvis Jones pounced on. This time it was the Steelers who couldn’t capitalize on the turnover however, as Boswell missed his first field goal attempt of the season from 41 yards out to keep the score at 21-21.
A Raiders punt gave Pittsburgh the ball back late in the third quarter, prompting a nine-play, 91-yard drive by Roethlisberger and co. to take a 28-21 lead. The go-ahead touchdown came on a simple receiver screen to Martavis Bryant, who bounced back from a couple early-game drops to weave through three arm tackles and score from 14 yards out.
Roosevelt Nix continued his hot start in Pittsburgh by flying down the field on the ensuing kickoff return to knock the ball loose from Raiders return man Taiwan Joneswith just over 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Rookie linebacker Anthony Chickillo pounced on the loose ball at the Raiders six-yard line, setting up fellow rookie Jesse James first career touchdown on a four-yard pass from Roethlisberger to make it 35-21 Pittsburgh.
Carr wasn’t done however, as he marched the Raiders offense 60 yards in just 1:52 to cut the lead to 35-28. Raiders backup fullback Jamize Olawale made Will Allen miss badly in the hole during the 19-yard touchdown run that reduced the Oakland deficit to just seven points.
The Steelers were moving the ball on the following drive, until Roethlisberger was sacked for the first time all day, injuring his left foot in the process. As he was carted to the locker room, the defense forced a quick three-and-out, only to have Brown fumble the punt return for Pittsburgh, giving Oakland the ball back at the Steelers 39-yard line with 6:05 remaining.
Carr moved the Raiders to the Steelers 11, but Ross Cockrell intercepted his toss on 3rd-and-ten to give Pittsburgh the ball back with 4:21 left in the game. A couple penalties caused the Steelers to punt with 2:22 remaining, and Carr proceeded to lead the Raiders offense on a game-tying drive.
After converting a 3rd-and-10 to Crabtree, Carr found the veteran receiver down the middle of the field for a 38-yard score. Crabtree beat Lawrence Timmons on the play, and Carr delivered a money ball despite a big hit by Mitchell.
With 1:15 left in the contest, Brown did the rest, racing downfield after the short reception to put the Steelers in position for a much-needed victory. Of course, the celebration is short-lived until the extent of Roethlisberger’s injury can be known, but the win was vital to Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes, especially if it comes down to a tiebreaker between the Steelers and Raiders.
Brown finished the day with 17 catches for 284 yards, both Steelers records, consistently torching Amerson all day long in coverage. He was hardly alone however, as Williams romped for 174 yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns.
Pittsburgh churned out 597 yards of offense and it could have been much worse, as Bryant dropped what would have likely been an 86-yard touchdown, and the aforementioned overthrow to Brown earlier in the game. Despite leaving plenty of plays on the field, the Steelers will host the struggling Browns next Sunday in another must-win game.