Don’t look now, but the Las Vegas Raiders might be a good team in 2021. It’s only Week 2, so you can’t get too excited just yet, but it’s two quality victories so far with big-time playoff implications already.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens are both AFC teams. So that makes them possible Wild Card and playoff-seeding competition. With the AFC West playing the AFC North this year, all of these games will be crucial within the division and conference. Making things even a little sweeter was Baltimore handing Kansas City their first loss of the season last night on Sunday Night Football.
Enough playoff talk though, again, it’s only Week 2. So, that’s premature, as the average prom night experience. Let’s get to the meat and potatoes of the Raiders beating the Steelers instead, which was glorious enough in its own right.
Heading to Pittsburgh, this game had all the benchmarks of a classic Raiders loss. It was the jinx of an East Coast, 10 am game against a quality opponent. The Raiders were also coming off of an intense victory, the thrilling overtime win against the Ravens the previous week. The cards were stacked against Las Vegas, but it still didn’t matter as the Raiders won 26-17.
It’s all about that Raiders defense…
The Raiders squandered two early big-time defensive stops by only getting field goals. First was Trayvon Mullen’s interception off Ben Roethlisberger and then a turnover on downs on consecutive Steelers’ possessions.
Pittsburgh had every right to be feeling good after those two drives; they only resulted in six points for the Raiders. Especially so when their drive after that gave them the lead 7-6. Those are the type of moments when a game that you started well can go off the rails in a hurry.
The momentum should have swung to the Steelers at that moment, but the Raiders didn’t let that happen. There was no panic within the team at their disappointing drives; they just kept trucking along. The fans on Twitter were worried the field goals were not going to cut it. However, the team never let those moments keep them down.
They added another field goal before halftime, adding to the chagrin of Raider Nation. Field goals are still points, but we all know far too often a lack of touchdowns and settling for three is a recipe for a loss in the NFL. However, the third field goal of the game for Daniel Carlson was huge as it capped off a 13-play, 6:23 drive to take back the lead with two seconds to go until halftime.
It still wasn’t looking great with that 9-7 lead at the half. Leaving points off the board against Big Ben does not inspire confidence. Las Vegas’s defense kept playing strong despite that, and the offense heated up with big second-half touchdown drives.
The Silver and Black dodged a bullet in this one…
The first of those two touchdowns came on the third drive of the second half, and it had Raider Nation gasp along with it. The pass was placed perfectly to Foster Moreau for a nine-yard touchdown. Unfortunately, it was Derek Carr reeling in agony that took everyone’s attention.
Players kneeled all around him, coaches and trainers with wide-eyed looks, and Carr pointing at his ankle like a dramatic reenactment of the 2016 broken ankle that ended the hopes of that miraculous season. Talk about a scary moment. Even Carr critics were terrified that he had just gone down with an injury.
Thankfully he was able to get up and walk off the field, but at the moment, it was like a ton of bricks falling onto Raider Nation’s chest. Love or hate him; Carr has mostly played lights out this season. He finished with 382 yards passing and two touchdowns, the only blemish being a sack-fumble that seemed like he should’ve been able to protect the ball better on. Easy for me to say without T.J Watt draped on my back. Regardless, the Raiders got the recovery anyway, so not a real big deal.
The Play of the Game happened with Carr’s second touchdown of the day, a 61-yard “moonrock” to Henry Ruggs III. Man, when that ball went up, and you saw Ruggs outrunning two Steelers to it, that was pure poetry. Especially considering all the criticism that Ruggs has received with the Raiders passing on CeeDee Lamb for him. Seeing him with that game-clinching touchdown was pretty special.
You can’t help but agree with Foster Moreau with his “Isn’t he fun?” quip after the game. Hopefully, this could be the breakout game fans have been waiting for from Ruggs.
The Raiders are still the Raiders though. So of course, it couldn’t end without a little extra drama. One big complaint of the game was Las Vegas coming up with a huge stop to get the ball back when up 23-14. The Raiders had all the momentum. They had the ball back with eight minutes left in the game and a nine-point lead. Yet, they proceeded to run the ball four straight times and punt it back to the Steelers.
Aghast is an understatement. It’s all well and good to run off the clock, but this is Big Ben we are talking about here, and that third-down -4 yard run was inexcusable. The first three runs were perfect, but Carr was on fire in the second half and should have passed on that third-and-3 play. The Steelers knew Gruden too well. They knew a run was coming and annihilated it. That play calling was way too conservative and could have cost the Raiders.
Thankfully for fans, it didn’t.
Another defensive stop forced a Steelers field goal and yet another game-sealing kick from Daniel Carlson. If Carlson misses that final 45-yard kick, Roethlisberger would have gotten the ball back at his own 35 and down only six points, instead, the kick was good from the moment it left Carlson’s foot and was the final nail in the Steelers coffin.
*Top Photo: Jose Carlos Fajardo/The Mercury News