Originally published on SBReport.net on Sept. 23, 2012
Nobody said his first win would be easy, but head coach Dennis Allen earned his first regular-season victory as the Raiders defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 34-31 at O.Co Coliseum on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s a great feeling but I’ll tell you what, I’m so proud of those guys in the locker room for the way that they fought for 60 minutes,” Allen said of his team. “We knew it was going to be a 60-minute fight against a very good football team that we played out there today. They fought all the way up until the very end and we were fortunate to come out on top.”
After struggling to stop the Steelers from converting on third down, the Raiders defense came up with the stop they needed with just two minutes remaining in the game.
With the game tied at 31-31 and the Steelers with 3rd and nine, defensive coordinator Jason Tarver sent a formation on the field with just two defensive lineman: Matt Shaughnessy and Tommy Kelly. Tarver still sent a blitz that allowed linebacker Miles Burris to pressure quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and force an errant throw too high for Steelers wide receivers Mike Wallace.
Following a punt, Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer was able to orchestrate a game-winning two-minute drive that culminated in a last-second 43-yard field goal from Sebastian Janikowski for the win.
A lot of times when you play with young guys you need to keep their focus, keep their attention because it is chaotic, especially against a team like that with multiple fronts, multiple pressures,” Palmer said of operating during two-minute drives. “But our group was calm, we were just playing. We try to make it no different than practice. We do two minute situations all the time, every week, almost every day in practice.”
Perhaps one of the biggest plays occurred on the third play of the drive. Facing a 3rd and 10 from their own 25-yard line, Palmer put a ball right on the money of tight end Brandon Myers who was covered well. Myers was able to pluck the ball out of the air and complete the 15-reception for the first down.
Myers has become a reliable target in the passing game as he hauled in four receptions for 55 yards in the victory.
“He’s been critical for us in the passing game. He’s done an outstanding job for us,” Allen said of his tight end. “He was a guy that we identified fairly early in camp as a guy that we thought could be productive for us so his play has really been beneficial.”
Palmer was able to manage the clock nicely as they left just five seconds on the clock at the time of the final snap for the field goal. Even more importantly, Palmer was able to kneel the ball on the left hash mark. The downing allowed punter Shane Lechler to hold the ball on the grass just off the infield dirt where the Oakland Athletics second baseman would position himself.
“We ran the ball on the play before and the ball got stopped and it was kind of right there on the edge. We wanted to make sure we got it all the way on the edge so that Sebastian could kick off the grass.”
Oakland looked like it would be off to another rough game as Palmer through an interception on the game’s first play from the line of scrimmage. From there, the Raiders were able to get running back Darren McFadden free for a 64-yard touchdown run, more yards than he had gained rushing over the first two games of the season.
McFadden cut through a huge hole on the right side on 1-10 and made the safety miss as he scampered 64 yards into the end zone.
McFadden carried the ball 18 times for 113 yards, his tenth career 100-yard rushing game, but first since week three of last season.
Nearly a full 10 quarters into the regular season, the Raiders were able to get their first defensive turnover when defensive tackle Desmond Bryant got into the backfield and forced a fumble on Steelers running back Jonathan Dwyer. Cornerback Joselio Hanson recovered the ball, giving the Raiders the ball on the Steelers 30-yard line.
After driving down to the Steelers six-yard line, Palmer and the offense faced a 4th and two in which Allen chose to send his offense back out.
Using lots of motion, the Palmer was able to draw a penalty from the defense, giving the Raiders first and goal from the three-yard line.
“We were trying to keep the defense off rhythm a little bit and we were fortunate that they jumped offsides and gave us the free first down,” Allen said of the play.
When asked if he intended on running a play if no penalty was drawn, Allen simply smiled and said they did indeed run a play.
Palmer took advantage of the first down by throwing a perfect ball to wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey on a fade route for a three-yard touchdown pass.
With so many injuries at the cornerback position, Michael Huff got the start at cornerback with Matt Giordano starting at free safety.
The defense did allow 31 points and allowed Roethlisberger to throw for four touchdowns and 384 yards on 36-49 throwing. Luckily for the Raiders, the Steelers were unable to get the running game going as they rushed for just 54 yards on 20 carries.
But the defense came up big when it was needed in the fourth quarter, forcing a punt and a forced fumble caused linebacker Phillip Wheeler while shutting the Steelers out in the fourth quarter.
While the Raiders got the victory, it wasn’t all good news on the field for the Raiders.
Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey suffered a neck injury in the early parts of the fourth quarter. Heyward-Bey received a hit to the face from Steelers safety Ryan Mundy while going up for a ball in the endzone. Heyward-Bey was knocked unconscious and remained on the ground before being taken off on a stretcher.
The Raiders squad took a knee on the sideline as they looked on and hoped for their fellow teammate to be okay.
“It was a long time so we started thinking a lot like “What could be wrong with him?” We just prayed and let God take care of him,” linebacker Philip Wheeler said.
The Raiders announced following the game that Heyward-Bey is in stable condition but will remain at the hospital overnight.
While the offense scored more points in Sunday’s game than they had in their first two games combined, Palmer likes what he saw but knows there is still room to grow.
“We have a long ways to go. Our third game in and our schedule is extremely difficult,” Palmer said. “We play tough defenses week in, week out, but the sky’s the limit. There’s No doubt. But there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, there’s a lot of things that need to be ironed out.”