There were many reasons for the sudden reversal of form for the Steelers' defense, but this reason smacked of the best irony: Bruce Arians.
That's whom Troy Polamalu credited indirectly when he said: "We started off real slow, but when we started running the ball, controlling the clock, keeping their defense on the field, and getting our energy back, that's Steeler ball and we executed our game plan today."
The play-by-play sheet supports Polamalu's point. The Steelers opened with a 2-pass, 3-play series and the Raiders followed with 3 first downs and a field goal.
Another 2-pass, 3-play Steelers series was followed by a mini-drive by the Raiders.
But after the Steelers went on a 14-play drive that ended with a touchdown early in the second quarter, the Raiders fell apart.
The Raiders converted only one more first down in the half, but even that conversion was marred by a fumble on the play and a subsequent touchdown that put the Steelers ahead by 21-3.
The Raiders didn't make their second and last foray into Steelers territory until late in the third quarter, and then Polamalu stopped the Bruce Gradkowski-induced déjà vu that hung thick over Heinz Field by intercepting a pass at the Pittsburgh 8 and returning it 38 yards. Mike Wallace scored two plays later to put the game on ice.
The Raiders finished with only 182 yards of total offense, a season-best performance by the Steelers' defense.
"I was expecting a win," said nose tackle Casey Hampton. "But I wasn't expecting a blowout."
Hampton and his teammates felt confident against the Raiders after taking a drubbing the previous week from the New England Patriots.
The increased intensity level was obvious at Wednesday's practice and carried throughout the week and onto the sideline Sunday. That's where Hampton gazed upon his hopped-up defensive captain just before kickoff.
"Man, Potsie, he was out of his body today," Hampton said of James Farrior. "He came out from the start. The coaches were in the huddle trying to talk, telling us to calm down and this and that, and he was over-talking them. He was just into it. I think everybody kind of fed off of his energy today."
"I didn't mean to talk over the coaches," said Farrior. "I know those guys are important. But I was just so fired up I couldn't help it."
Farrior also performed "out of his body," as Hampton put it. He made 8 tackles, had a sack, 2 tackles for loss, and should've been credited with at least another half a sack. He spurred a run defense that held red-hot Raiders runner Darren McFadden to 14 yards on 10 carries.
"James Farrior was hitting hard today," said nose tackle Chris Hoke. "And those weren't normal tackles. He was putting the helmet on 'em."
"That's our game, being physical," said Farrior. "That's something we pride ourselves on around here. That's Steelers football. That's been a part of our DNA for a long time. So when we get a team that wants to be physical, that's our game. We'll bang with the best of them."
"That's AFC North ball that we played today," said Polamalu.
"We were playing Steeler ball," said James Harrison, "and that's fast and hard."