OAKLAND, Calif. – There was a sense of relief for the Steelers after beating the Jets in New York two weeks ago.
Last week, following a win over the Ravens at home, there was a sense of pride that comes from knocking off a hated rival.
A victory today over the Raiders in Oakland would bring a completely different feeling for the Steelers.
No, not shock, though given Pittsburgh’s 1-3 record in its last four games against the hapless Raiders that might be the correct sentiment.
A victory would give the Steelers a sense of accomplishment, though they likely won’t admit it.
After all, when the team opened the season at 0-4, would anyone have given them a chance at getting within striking distance of .500 by midseason?
But first, the Steelers (2-4) must get past an Oakland (2-4) team that has given them fits. Not only have the Raiders beaten the Steelers three of four times since 2006, they have done so in memorable fashion.
Who could forget Ben Roethlisberger returning from a concussion in 2006 to throw four interceptions as the defending Super Bowl champions lost, 20-13, to quarterback Andrew Walter and an Oakland team that would finish 2-14?
Or how about a 2009 game, in which current Steelers backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski threw three fourth-quarter touchdown passes for the Raiders to again stun the defending Super Bowl champions at Heinz Field, 27-24? The Raiders finished 5-11 that year.
If those losses weren’t bad enough, perhaps last season’s 34-31 win in Oakland by a team destined to finish 4-12 is enough. The Steelers blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, allowing the Raiders to score the final 13 points, including a field goal by Sebastian Janikowski as time expired.
The losses have been true head-scratchers for the Steelers. That each came in a season the Steelers failed to qualify for the playoffs is not a coincidence.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin didn’t talk much with his team about recent history with the Raiders. Instead, Tomlin gave his players a history lesson on what the Pittsburgh-Oakland rivalry meant in the 1970s.
The recent history hasn’t been as good, though the O.co, also known as “The Black Hole,” is as miserable as ever for the visiting team.
“It’s scary going into that Black Hole,” said Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor. “Those people are really serious about that. You can jump into the stands if you want to. I don’t think you’re going to come back out.”
“I like to see the rookies and young guys that haven’t been out there,” said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. “The first time they walk on the field and see the fans and the kindergarten teacher who has her face painted and is going nuts, it’s a neat thing because that’s what football is about.”
For the Steelers to come away with a victory, they’ll need to play error-free football, as they’ve largely done in their past two games. After turning the ball over 11 times in the first four games, Pittsburgh has just one turnover in its two victories.
They’ll also have to contain Oakland’s running game, led by quarterback Terrelle Pryor, a Jeannette High School graduate. Running a read-option offense, Pryor leads all AFC quarterbacks in rushing with 285 yards. He’s also completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 1,061 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions.
Unlike other running quarterbacks, Pryor (6-4, 233) can not only run around or past defenders, but over them.
“It’s definitely going to be one of our big challenges, when he does keep it, to get him on the ground,” said Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. “He’s like having another tailback in the game, really. He’s a great athlete.”
Odds and end zones
Right tackle Marcus Gilbert (thigh) is expected to start for the Steelers. … Linebacker Jarvis Jones, held out of last week’s game with a concussion, will play.