The Steelers' hope for a miracle playoff berth or the top seed in the AFC North is dashed with their fifth loss of the year.
The Pittsburgh Steelers traveled to Oakland to take on the Raiders in Week 8 riding the wave of a two-game win streak. With both teams at 2-4 on the year and the Raiders on a 10-year streak of losing after their bye week, it seemed a good opportunity for Pittsburgh to get another win and stay firmly in the AFC North title race.
However, the Steelers could not come away with a win in Oakland. Things started poorly, with Pittsburgh's defense giving up a 93-yard touchdown run to Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor and then another touchdown to Oakland running back Darren McFadden before the first quarter was over.
The Steelers were in a 14-3 hole that only got deeper with another first-half McFadden touchdown. Hurting matters further was a missed 34-yard field goal by Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham after cornerback Cortez Allen picked off Pryor. Suisham had, before this game, been perfect on his field-goal attempts for the season.
(Ravens on bye, Week 8)
It was the first of two missed field goals in the game, and both would come back to haunt the Steelers in the second half.
Pittsburgh's defense did something against the Raiders at halftime that they failed to do in last year's loss to the team: adjust. The Raiders had 244 total yards of offense in the first half, including 182 yards rushing. In the second half, Oakland added just 35 yards to that total and had just one first down, scoring no additional points, while the Steelers were able to tack on 15 points thanks to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns.
It proved to be too little, too late for the Steelers, who fell to the Raiders, 21-18.
When the Steelers tried to drive in the second half against Oakland, Ben Roethlisberger was picked off two times. He was sacked on important plays a total of five times, with the offensive line again suffering a string of injuries.
Tomlin says Whimper (knee) and DeCastro (ankle) need to be further evaluated.— Scott Brown (@ScottBrown_ESPN) October 27, 2013
Though the Steelers were able to get within three points of the Raiders, there was not enough time at the end of the game for the offense to get a chance to tie or win it.
The Steelers, at the halfway point of the season, appear to be in too big of a hole to dig out of, either to surpass the Bengals in the AFC North or to fight their way to a wild-card playoff spot among the ever-changing (and strengthening) AFC.
Even if the second half of Pittsburgh's season is much like their second half in Oakland, it won't likely be enough to turn their fortunes around. The Bengals are on fire right now—their quarterback, Andy Dalton, has put forth a string 300-plus-yard, multiple-touchdown games, and their defense is playing as well as advertised in the offseason—and it doesn't look like they'll be taking their foot off of the accelerator any time soon.
When the Steelers have gotten hot, it's been more of a smoldering fire, one able to be snuffed out at a moment's notice by one ill-thrown pass or one poorly timed fumble. Every step forward seems to have a corresponding step or two backward—a 45-yard punt return by Antonio Brown followed by a Roethlisberger interception, a two-game win streak followed by a frustrating road loss. And each attempt at recovery seems to come just a little too late.
This is a Steelers team that needs many things: a healthy offensive line, an actual run game (this week, they had only 35 rushing yards to show for their 19 attempts), a consistent passing game, fewer turnovers and a stifling pass rush. They do not have all of these things at the same time, on a regular basis, and the result is a season that could end with a more disappointing record than their 8-8 of 2012.
In fact, 8-8 would be a good ending to Pittsburgh's 2013 season. Right now, even that seems far out of their grasp. The AFC North's top spot and the playoffs are now goals for another year for the Steelers.