Early on, the Oakland Raiders demonstrated that they were committed to the run, but nothing else. After QB Rick Mirer opened the game through the air, accomplishing nothing but a three and out, the Raiders went back to the ground.
While the Pittsburgh Steelers were busy doing their best imitation of the mistake-prone Raiders, Oakland ran the ball 7 straight times for 63 yards and a Tyrone Wheatley (13 rushes for 65 yards and 1 touchdown) touchdown from 22 yards out.
The Steelers' overmatched and banged-up secondary must have felt confident going into the game with former third string QB Rick Mirer at the helm for the Raiders. However, once the Raiders used up their weak attempt at faking a passing game, they asserted their will on a Steelers defense that seemed all-consumed with nuances of a nickel pass defense that is one season too late on the scene.
Fortunately for the Steelers, that one series was all the Raiders had left in them for the season. Oakland had 10 series after their touchdown drive and not a one went for more than 6 plays and 22 yards (the last drive of the game for the Raiders). Oakland ended the day going just 1 for 12 on third downs.
Statistically, Pittsburgh ended up looking fairly impressive on paper. QB Tommy Maddox continued to manage a conservative passing attack that yielded 266 yards on 19 of 28 passing, good for a 95.2 passer rating. Really, the Steelers merely revisited the most recent win over the Cleveland Browns, the more inept team losing. Mirer was woeful, often missing his mark, 10 for 25 and just 68 yards through the air. With Mirer's passer rating mired at 14.2, is it any wonder the Steelers won?
After 9 penalties for 85 yards, 35 yards more than the league worst Raiders rang up, Bill Cowher and his underachieving crew were lucky the Raiders quit well before the final gun sounded.
The Battle of the Inept was more like it, to open the second half. In a comedy of errors (though I'm not sure who is laughing except for those fans who hate the Raiders and Steelers), Maddox started things off throwing right to Derrick Gibson. The problem with that play was that Gibson is a safety for the Raiders, not a wide receiver for the Steelers.
Not to worry, the Raiders were down by ten and the Steelers coaching staff had finally figured out that they needed to dare Mirer to pass. Try he did and once again the Raiders went three and out.
Not to be outdone, RB Jerome Bettis (who rushed for over 100 yards against a defense that clearly wanted no part of him) promptly fumbled on the very next series, making it two Pittsburgh turnovers in just 4 plays.
While the Raiders offense line seemed to this observer to overwhelm the Steelers front seven in the first quarter, DE Aaron Smith would muscle his way in (clearly a coverage sack) and make his only solo tackle of the day, sacking Mirer and forcing a fumble. LB Kendrell Bell pulled the ball away from Mirer, giving the Steelers offense new life, first and 10 on the Oakland 43-yard line.
Would the Steelers finally seize the opportunity?
In a season of squandered opportunities, the Steelers stayed true to form, managing to lose 6 yards on three plays.
But by then, the fight had completely gone out of the Raiders. Oakland simply couldn't move the ball as a result of the Steelers' defensive adjustment selling out to stop the run. Rich Gannon and the spread that shredded the Steelers in 2003 was a distant memory.
Two players carried the day for the Steelers, WR Antwaan Randle El and DE Kimo Von Oelhoffen. Von Oelhoffen finished the day with three sacks, putting on a clinic that the rest of the defense should study. Randle El did most of his damage on special teams, racking up 168 total return yards.
While both teams are disappointments, the Raiders showed less pride and fight. Almost to a man (perhaps save DE Tyler Brayton), Oakland is already enjoying the off-season. What the Steelers are doing is anyone's guess, but the problems plaguing them all year long were still evident today.
Just Quit, Baby
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