As much as the Raiders and their fans like to dream, what took place in Pittsburgh on Sunday should have come as no surprise. Pride and Poise may be an improved lot, but they’re still not at the level of teams that have been through the regular-season meat grinder in recent years.
The Raiders had a chance grab a wild-card playoff berth by the throat. Except that it was the Steelers who landed haymakers in a 38-35 victory while the visitors were content to jab, jab, jab. No fewer than five Raiders were laid out in the game, a pretty good indication of which side was ready to rumble.
It was the Raiders’ bend-and-break defense that was softer than Charmin especially. The group lacks depth and difference-makers — we’ve known that for months — but that’s no excuse to play like chihuahuas when so much is on the line. The Steelers gained 597 yards and pretty much did what they darn well pleased.
“We let the team down,” veteran Charles Woodson fessed up afterward on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. “When your offense is able to put up the amount of points it did today . . . We were the weak link. That’s tough when you’re not carrying your weight.
“Man, this is the third straight week that (opponents) put up over 30 points. Defensively, late in games, we’ve let teams back in the game. Today we just let it get away from us. It’s disheartening to a degree, but we can play much better. … We’ve got to find a way to get better in a hurry.”
More to the point, coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and coach Jack Del Rio have to find a way to make them better.
Rather than force Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to get rid of the ball in a hurry, the coaches decided on a passive game plan that relied heavily on a four-man pass rush and single coverage in the secondary. Where were the blitzes? The press coverage?
If ever a situation called for some creativity, it was when backup Landry Jones replaced Roethlisberger with the outcome in doubt late. But rather than confuse Jones, the defense allowed him to march his team down the field for the decisive field goal.
Ultimately, it’s up to general manager Reggie McKenzie to improve the talent level on that side of the ball, but it’s the responsibility of Norton and Del Rio to put the players in a position to succeed.
ANTONIO ISLAND: Steelers All-World wide receiver Antonio Brown caught 17 balls for 284 yards, a franchise record.
You read that right — 17 receptions, 284 yards.
“Wow! Wow!” Woodson said when told of the numbers. “Wow, I really don’t know what to say.”
In that case, Balls will say it for him: Only a handful of cornerbacks in the league have a chance against Brown in man coverage, and David Amerson is not among them. Amerson was cut by the Washington Redskins only weeks ago.
“It’s a tough one, you know?” Amerson said. “It’s definitely not something that us in the secondary can be proud of. We’re better than that.”
Meanwhile, Amerson is questionable for the next game because of severe wind burn.
TRUE GRIT: So who ran across the field to chase Brown out of bounds after the 57-yard dagger in the final minute?
Yep, the 39-year-young Woodson.
Woodson aggravated his bum shoulder twice on tackle attempts, which prompted the coaches to suggest he take a few plays off.
Because without Woodson, the defense has no choice at all.
GOOD NEWS OF THE DAY: Despite the loss, the Raiders can’t be written off as a playoff candidate for these reasons: They play in a woeful conference and have the healthiest quarterback and the best offensive line of the contenders.
The Steelers (5-4) and New York Jets (5-3) are the only AFC teams not in first place with above-.500 records. And the Raiders (4-4) own the tie-breaker against the Jets by virtue of their victory earlier this season.
While quarterback Derek Carr had barely a scratch, Roethlisberger was expected to be out of action for several weeks after Aldon Smith fell on his left heel. The Jets’ Ryan Fitzpatrick will attempt to play with torn ligaments in his left or non-throwing hand.
Better yet, Minnesota Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater suffered a possible concussion on Sunday and his status was iffy for the game in Oakland this weekend.
AND THE NOT-SO-GOOD NEWS: Brown was silly good against the 49ers and Raiders this season — 26 catches, 479 yards — and if the season were to end today, the Raiders would get to do it again in Pittsburgh next season.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Courtesy of CBS analyst Dan Fouts: “Raiders fans heard that for years— ‘Off the hands of (Darrius) Hayward-Bey.’”
LET’S GET IT STARTED HOT: Are you ready for Ivan and the Rabb-le-rousers?
When Cal opens its basketball season against Carroll (Montana) tonight, expectations will be through the Haas Pavilion roof. So will the pressure on coach Cuonzo Martin and his staff to deliver one season after the Bears sat out the NCAA and NIT tournaments.
The Bears were ranked No. 14 in the preseason AP poll last week, the same spot they occupied in the the USA Today rankings last month. Arizona (No. 12) and Utah (No. 16) were the other Pac-12 teams on the list. The Bears were picked second behind Arizona in the preseason conference media poll last month.
The Bears will host Rice in the regular-season opener Friday, and if they don’t win by at least 25 points, some folks around here will be very disappointed.
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