Steelers boot opportunity for win on the road in Oakland
OAKLAND, Calif. — Fittingly, the play that sums up the Steelers' season was over almost before it started.
It covered 93 yards, lasted 14 seconds, and with each stride of Terrelle Pryor's long and powerful legs on the first play from scrimmage Sunday, he tromped the Steelers' disappointing season deeper into the O.co Coliseum turf.
There have been about 1.6 million plays run in NFL history, but there never had been one like this: the longest touchdown run by a quarterback.
“Talk about starting fast and making a statement on first play,” cornerback Ike Taylor said. “They did, and we didn't.”
Largely because of Pryor's masterpiece of a read-option play, the Steelers are 2-5 after losing to the Raiders, 21-18, their fourth upset loss in five games against Oakland since 2006. Now they seemingly have nowhere to go but down in a season in which they keep talking as if the playoffs are a reality — but a top-10 draft pick seems more inevitable.
Up next: the Patriots (6-2) in Foxborough next Sunday, with the Steelers staring at their second 2-6 start since 2006.
They have nine more games remaining in what is fast becoming their worst season since they went 6-10 in 2003, but after Pryor outraced every member of what is supposed to be an elite defense on what might be the run of a lifetime, the next truly important date for the Steelers is May 8. That's the first day of the NFL Draft.
Raiders coach Dennis Allen decided Saturday to call the opening play for Pryor, the former Jeannette and Ohio State star who was tutored by former Steelers backup quarterback Charlie Batch and knows quite a few of the Steelers players.
“We wanted to give Terrelle a chance to get into the flow of the game and give him some easy plays to start the game,” Allen said.
How much easier does it get than this?
“That's devastating,” Roethlisberger said. “You don't expect that.”
And didn't coach Mike Tomlin call the read-option “the flavor of the month” in March, saying the Steelers were looking forward to defending it “in stadiums in the fall?”
“It's frustrating: the season, the games,” Roethlisberger said. “We feel like we're there and we've got a chance and doing good things, but those one or two mistakes hurt us.”
Or in this case, five or six or seven mistakes prevented the Steelers from making a memorable comeback after they fell behind 14-0 and 21-3. Even two touchdowns — Emmanuel Sanders' 9-yard catch and Le'Veon Bell's 2-yard run — in the final 12 minutes, 11 seconds couldn't save this afternoon. Or this season.
Or a team that keeps losing starting linemen. Both starting guards, David DeCastro (ankle) and Ramon Foster (concussion), left in this one, as did backup Guy Whimper (knee).
The Steelers were hurt by Zoltan Mesko's delay in getting off a punt later in the first quarter, allowing Rashad Jennings to partially block it. The 3-yard punt set up the first of Darren McFadden's two touchdown runs.
They also were stung by the first two field-goal misses by Shaun Suisham, from 34 and 32 yards, both shanked to the right. He had been 15 for 15. As Tomlin said, they made the difference in a game in which they were outrushed 197-35, with Pryor getting 106 yards on nine carries.
The Steelers couldn't turn two Pryor interceptions into points. Or convert during a 16-play drive that lasted 9:11 to start the second half. Or during two potentially game-changing possessions after Roethlisberger bounced pinball-like off a couple of defenders and threw his TD pass to Sanders. Antonio Brown couldn't hold onto a pass near the Raiders' 30, then later fumbled at the Raiders' 21 with 6:46 remaining.
They also wasted a timeout when Roethlisberger (29 of 45, 275 yards) thought a horse-collar tackle on Bell would be called, but the officials decided not to call an infraction after conferring.
“I know timeouts are valuable, but so are 5 yards for a team that's having trouble scoring touchdowns,” Roethlisberger said.
Not that it matters much now.
If there's a pattern to this season, it's this: The Steelers fell behind the Titans by 14. They fell behind the Bengals by 10. They fell behind the Bears by 21. They fell behind the Vikings by 17. They fell behind the Raiders by 18.
“We can't ease into football games. When the national anthem goes, you've got to be ready to go,” defensive end Brett Keisel said. “So far this season, we've struggled in that area. We got to step into stadiums ready to go. It's going to be addressed. I might address it.”
It might be too little, too late for a team that arrived too late for a season that irretrievably got away from them almost before they knew it. Just like Terrelle Pryor did.