Rome was not built in a day
It’s time for some honesty and realism from the Oakland Raiders and the Raider Nation. Are the Raiders as bad as the 35-3 score line suggests against the Steelers? No. Are the Raiders as dominant as they were against the Broncos, Seahawks and Chiefs? Probably not.
This was a set-back but it is not time to right off Tom Cable and the resurgent Raiders just yet.
Before the victory at Mile-High, Oakland was sitting on a 1-4 record and another bleak season loomed. Over the course of the next three games, the snowball started rolling – firstly Oakland posted huge offensive figures against the Broncos, to make everyone think a revival was on the cards.
Then a defensive near shut-out of Seattle had people believing the Raiders were relevant. Finally a gutsy all-around victory at home to their rivals the Chiefs had the Raider Nation believing the sky was the limit. How quickly things had turned around. The Raiders were headed to the Superbowl! How quickly opinions have changed back around again following the defeat in Pittsburgh.
Make no mistake this was an excellent Pittsburgh team. Yes, they were missing a few players, but the Steelers are one of the top 5 teams in the NFL right now. Not only that but they were incredibly motivated to win this game. The loss the previous week to the Patriots had meant a set-back in their race to win the AFC North. The Ravens were circling.
Will Oakland learn the lessons needed to win AFC West?
Not only that, but Oakland had managed to come back with a win from Heinz field last year and the memory lived long with the Steelers. Losing was not an option. It was evident how much it meant to the Steelers as they racked up 14 penalties for a franchise-record 163 yards. This was win-at-all-costs football from the home side.
So, the Raiders were facing an elite team, highly motivated and in their own back yard. The Raiders by contrast had lost momentum sat at home during the bye week.
If the Raiders had managed to edge this game, it would have been an incredible turn-around by a franchise that has not been used to winning for eight years. Talk of Super Bowls would not have been premature.
So, the Raiders lost. Big deal. In sports it matters more what direction you are headed in rather than where you are. Yes, there will be some bumps in the road, but if the curve is on the up, then all concerned can still enjoy the ride.
This loss could be exactly what this young, talented team needed. They now know where the bar has been set. The running game is not yet consistent enough, the play-calling is not yet flexible enough, the quarterback play is still too flaky and the defense is not quite as dominant as they thought. Added to that an inability to stop Pittsburgh in the Red Zone and the old falling of giving up big plays to the passing game, it is easy to see where the Raiders need to improve. Third downs were also still an issue. In all of these key facets Pittsburgh were the better team.
The key from here on in, is how the Raiders use that information and how they react to the experience. Do they go into a corner and whine about taunting opponents and officials and the state of the surface and their injury list? If so, then the revival can be called off and the AFC West crown can be handed to the Chiefs right now.
If however, the Raiders can use this as motivation to re-double their efforts, keep on improving and to never get too far ahead of themselves, then this season is still very much alive.
Last week Pittsburgh were humbled by New England and used that motivation to turn in a dominant display at home that nullified the Raider threat. The Silver-and-Black need look no further for their template for the game against the Dolphins next Sunday. That’s the intensity level Oakland needs to take into the next game.
Let’s not forget there were some positives to take out of the game on Sunday. The Raiders had more offensive plays (64 to 63) and gained 17 first downs to Pittsburgh’s 18. Oakland’s run defense was nearly as good as the Steelers, holding the home side’s main running backs to 86 yards from 28 attempts (3.1 per carry), whilst Oakland managed 47 yards from 14 (3.6 per carry).
For much of the actual play, Oakland stood toe-to-toe with an elite team and didn't look out of place. The Raiders are just as talented a team as the Steelers. They just have quite got the experience of the big games and the mental sharpness to take that next step yet.
But a bounce back win for the Raiders next week against the Dolphins coupled with a Chiefs loss on the road in Seattle and Tom Cable’s men are back on top of the AFC West.
No time to panic. No time to get too down. It’s time for the Raiders to reap revenge on Miami next week. The Coliseum needs to be full again and the crowd need to bring the noise. There is still everything to play for out West.