Hot Roethlisberger can't help

Ben Roethlisberger may have played his best half of football this season, but it wasn't enough to help the Steelers beat the Oakland Raiders.

PITTSBURGH – People have been apologizing to Ben Roethlisberger quite a bit these days.

Hines Ward apologized to the Steelers' quarterback early in the week, and the defense did so after Sunday's shocking 27-24 loss to the hapless Oakland Raiders.

Roethlisberger completed every pass in the second half – except for a last-gasp Hail Mary – in twice helping the Steelers overcome fourth-quarter deficits. But once again, Roethlisberger's final touchdown came with too much time on the clock for what's become a porous defense.

The Steelers allowed three Bruce Gradkowski touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, the last with nine seconds left in the game. And even then, Roethlisberger was able to hit Limas Sweed in the hands in the end zone with his final desperation heave, but it was broken up by the Raiders as the clock hit triple zeroes.

The Steelers allowed 396 yards to what had been the league's 31st-ranked offense. And 229 of those yards came in the fourth quarter, which begat the apologies.

Not that Roethlisberger needed to hear them.

"I've never commented about the defense when they've played great because it's not my side of the ball," he said after the game. "And I'm not going to comment on anything on the other side of the ball because you have to ask them. I'm proud of the way this team played. We lost the game. I'm disappointed about that. I'll comment on offensive linemen, receivers, tight ends; I thought they played great."

Santonio Holmes had the best statistical performance of his four-year career. The Steelers' split end caught eight passes for 149 yards and a 34-yard touchdown that put the Steelers ahead by 10-3 in the second quarter.

Holmes also caught a 57-yard pass in the fourth quarter that set up Rashard Mendenhall's 3-yard touchdown run only 1:08 after Oakland had taken a 13-10 lead.

The Raiders, though, came back with a 3-play scoring drive to re-take the lead at 20-17. Roethlisberger followed by completing four of four passes on the Steelers' next possession, ending with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Ward for a 24-20 lead with 1:56 remaining.

Ward and Roethlisberger hugged and all appeared well for the Steelers and their team unity, which had been questioned early in the week because of a potential rift between the two players.

But the Raiders came back to devastate the Steelers' porous secondary and turn the defending champs into playoff longshots. Yet, Roethlisberger still believes the locker room will remain unified.

"We've always been a team. We've always stuck together through thick and thin, good and bad," he said. "We just have to get ready for Cleveland."

Roethlisberger appears back on track after missing a game and opening Sunday's contest with a sluggish first half. He's now thrown for over 3,000 yards for the fourth consecutive season, and Holmes with 987 yards and Ward with 922 are closing in on 1,000-yard receiving seasons. But the statistic that matters is all knotted at 6-6 after losing to another NFL bottom-feeder.

"To me it's tough to lose to anyone," Roethlisberger said. "I hate it. It burns. It hurts. You dwell on it for the night and you move on."

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