Nope. Not so fast.
Pittsburgh, just like many of the perpetually winningest teams of the past few years, has made a habit out of underestimating a supposedly "lesser" opponent and finding themselves in the losing column as a result. That's what happened against Oakland this time around, with the Steelers squandering a 24-14 third-quarter lead to lose, 34-31.
Offensive mistakes and a flat defensive effort resulted in a disappointing outing for Pittsburgh this week, and now, they head into their early bye with significant regrouping and refocusing ahead.
The Steelers had an excellent first-half showing, with a 17-14 halftime lead, 235 total yards to Oakland's 105 (including just 37 passing for Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer), and a crushing 21:36 worth of time of possession.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw two first-quarter touchdowns to tight end Heath Miller, and connected with nine different receivers in the half.
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley gave no quarter to running back Jonathan Dwyer after his lost fumble (he never returned to the game) and it seemed like there'd be little chance for Oakland to mount either an offensive or defensive attack strong enough to keep the Steelers at bay.
But apparently, the Steelers lost focus in the second half, and with it, the game.
Bad hands weren't just a curse of the benched Dwyer. Receiver Antonio Brown had two fumbles, one he recovered (luckily) for a touchdown, and another he lost. Mike Wallace also fumbled, again coming up with the lucky recovery.
Bad hands could also be attributed to the Steelers secondary. Cornerbacks Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen and Ike Taylor didn't notch an interception (though safety Ryan Clark did in the first quarter), nor could they keep passes away from the hands of the cobbled-together (and together, again) Raiders receiving corps, especially outside the numbers.
Of the Raiders' 20 first downs, 14 came from the pass (and two were via penalty). Though the Steelers controlled the clock, had more plays and had more drives, Oakland seemed, at times, unstoppable—a word not yet attributed to that team, so far, this season.
Running back Darren McFadden had six carries for 68 yards in the first half—including a 64-yard touchdown run—and ended the day averaging 6.3 yards per carry on 113 total rushing yards. Oakland receivers averaged 9.1 per reception, even though they had to go through their entire depth chart to do it.
Pittsburgh was shut out in the fourth quarter, when they should have been driving to close out the game. Instead, Oakland put up 13 points, going from a 31-21 deficit to a 34-31 win.
Veteran teams like Pittsburgh, with far more wins than losses in every season in recent memory, should, and generally do, not give up fourth-quarter leads like that. It was a bad performance that is becoming less and less uncharacteristic each time it happens. Every passing season, it appears the Steelers defense struggles more and more with maintaining a fourth-quarter lead.
It's not the absences of linebacker James Harrison or safety Troy Polamalu that was to blame—they've been without them before, won games and put together a pass rush. Aside from pressure from LaMarr Woodley (who had just one sack and the lone hit on Palmer on the day), there were few Steelers getting through the Raiders offensive line, despite knowing that Palmer and pressure simply don't mix.
The Steelers appeared to lose their bite, except when heading helmet-first into Raiders receivers, a dangerous game that only serves to further the perception that theirs is a dirty defense (warranted or not).
Many are they who have been chomping at the bit for the Steelers to finally falter, to relinquish their near-annual hold on a playoff spot. To regress and for their time to be up. Playing games like this, against teams that haven't shown much on either offense or defense, and failing to secure a win only furthers these cries.
Pittsburgh simply fell flat and gave the victory away to Oakland today, daring them to get into Sebastian Janikowski's field-goal range (which, truth be told, is likely around 70 yards anyway) and beat them. That, the Raiders did, and the Steelers did not seem to make an attempt to stop them with any urgency.
Recent history says the Steelers should be, and are, better than that. But what if they aren't? One way to shake this doubt is to win against teams both big and small—and to leave declarations of which opponents are "big" and "small" to fans and writers, and not to the locker room.
Week 4 byes aren't fun, not for a team that has dealt with injury after injury, season after season. However, if ever there was a time the Steelers needed some time to think and get things back on track, it's now. More of this, and the "it's over" cries about the Steelers could very well prove true. If you can't win games when having a significant fourth-quarter lead, who cares?
No one remembers the team that led for three quarters and lost—it's the winner who gets the headlines.