PITTSBURGH — The Oakland Raiders are no longer pushovers. The evidence came into stunning view on Sunday in Pittsburgh.
There was Derek Carr matching Ben Roethlisberger throw for throw. The Raiders were overcoming three turnovers to rally from a 14-point deficit to tie it on the road with 75 seconds remaining.
Then just as quickly, the potentially watershed moment vanished. There was Steelers’ wide receiver Antonio Brown dashing 57 yards. There was kicker Chris Boswell nailing an 18-yard field goal with 2 seconds left to send Oakland to a 38-35 defeat.
“Things started to fall apart and we just kept fighting,” Carr said. “That’s good to see. In this league, you have to win football games.”
And as encouraging as Oakland’s first half of 2015 has been, the Raiders aren’t quite there yet. Given a chance to reach the midway point with a winning record for the first time since 2001, the Raiders took a minor step back when they couldn’t cover Brown or tackle DeAngelo Williams. Brown set a Steelers’ record with 17 catches for 284 yards while Williams ran for 170 yards and two scores.
“I think we let the team down,” Raiders safety Charles Woodson said. “When your offense puts up the amount of points that they did today, you’d think that you would win the game. So, it’s tough when you’re not carrying your weight.”
Carr threw for 301 yards with four touchdowns and an interception for the Raiders (4-4), including a pretty 38-yard rainbow to Michael Crabtree with 1:15 to go that knotted the game at 35. Pittsburgh backup quarterback Landry Jones, filling in after Roethlisberger exited with a left foot injury, then hit Brown over the middle. The All Pro spun and darted down the sideline to the Oakland 15.
“I really don’t know what to say but ‘Wow,'” Woodson said.
Three plays later Boswell ended Oakland’s two-game winning streak.
“It’s a tough one,” Oakland cornerback David Amerson said. “It’s definitely not something that the secondary is proud of. We know that we’re better than that.”
Michael Crabtree caught seven passes for 108 yards and two scores. Rookie Amari Cooper added seven receptions for 88 yards and a touchdown. Running back Latavius Murray ran for 96 yards before leaving in the third quarter with concussion-like symptoms. Murray did not return after going through the concussion protocol.
Pittsburgh appeared to be firmly in control early in the fourth quarter, scoring two touchdowns in the span of three snaps. Roethlisberger threw a little bubble screen to Martavis Bryant that Bryant turned into a nifty 14-yard touchdown. Oakland’s Taiwan Jones fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Pittsburgh’s Roosevelt Nix fell on it at the Raiders’ 6. Roethlisberger pump faked rookie tight end Jesse James open in the back of the end zone and Pittsburgh was up 35-21.
The giddiness in the fourth-largest crowd ever at Heinz Field quickly faded. The Raiders drew within a touchdown on a 19-yard sprint by Jamize Olawale and Pittsburgh’s next possession ended with Roethlisberger hopping off the field after all 265 pounds of Smith landed on Roethlisberger’s foot. Roethlisberger missed four games earlier this season with a sprained left knee.
Ross Cockrell picked off Carr in the end zone on Oakland’s ensuing possession, but Carr collected himself to tie the game with a pretty strike to Crabtree to pull Oakland even. Carr now has 19 touchdowns and just four picks on the year, though he wasn’t exactly in the mood to reflect after letting it slip away.
“We could have done so much more,” Carr said. “That’s the thing that hurts me. When we lose close games like this, I’m hard on myself.”
The Raiders have been one of the league’s bigger surprises in coach Jack Del Rio’s first year. Decisive wins over San Diego and the New York Jets thrust Oakland firmly into the playoff mix at the midpoint. And despite the franchise’s issues since its last playoff appearance in 2002, the Raiders have owned the Steelers, going 4-1 against Pittsburgh since 2006 compared to 43-103 against the rest of the league.
NOTES: Woodson left the game three times with minor injuries but returned each time. … Oakland was flagged just three times for 21 yards. … The Raiders host Minnesota next Sunday. … Roethlisberger was taken for an MRI on his injured foot and his status was not immediately known.