They’ve lost three of four to the Raiders, which is frustrating. And the Steelers have lost three of four to Raiders teams that were destined to finish well below .500, which almost defies explanation.
“I can’t even answer that,” cornerback Ike Taylor said. “If I knew, I’d tell you, but I don’t know.”
In 2006 the Raiders beat the Steelers, 20-13, in Oakland. The Raiders finished 2-14 and the Steelers were 8-8.
In 2009 the Raiders beat the Steelers, 27-24, at Heinz Field. The Raiders finished 5-11 and the Steelers were 9-7.
And last season the Raiders beat the Steelers, 34-31, in Oakland. The Raiders finished 4-12 and the Steelers were 8-8.
The recent exception in the rivalry was the Steelers’ 35-3 win at Heinz Field in 2010 (the Steelers finished 12-4 that season and the Raiders came in at 8-8 ).
“They’ve had our number when we’re out there,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “I don’t know if there’s any magic solution to it.”
Perhaps not, but each Steelers loss to the Raiders of late has been characterized by at least one factor (and sometimes more than one) that seemingly influenced the outcome above all others.
In the 2006 game the Steelers out-gained the Raiders 360-98, but Roethlisberger was intercepted four times and two of the picks were returned for touchdowns.
And in last year’s meeting the Steelers turned the ball over twice to one for the Raiders, with one of Pittsburgh’s giveaways being a fumble by wide receiver Antonio Brown that denied the Steelers a chance to build on a three-point, fourth quarter lead.
“We haven’t had a lot of luck out there,” tight end Heath Miller said. “We haven’t played very well. We turned the ball over a lot when we played out there the last two times. They’ve made us pay for it each time.
“It’s gotta be a recipe for winning, protect the football, get turnovers on defense and, hopefully, get an early lead.”
TWO TEAMS ARE PLAYING
Oakland wasn’t going anywhere in 2009 (the Steelers, as it turned out, weren’t either). But the Raiders nonetheless reported for work with a plan and a purpose.
“We just prepared,” said backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, the Raiders’ starter that day. “I believed we could win. Any game you play you believe you can win or you wouldn’t be out there. We executed well and there were some plays we hit that we needed.
“I know there were a couple of plays that could have ended the game but didn’t. We were fortunate to get away with a win.”
Gradkowski wound up throwing for 308 yards and three touchdowns for the Raiders, including the game-winning touchdown with 11 seconds remaining.
“I think they had a pretty good quarterback in that game,” he said, laughing.
Gradkowski’s magic counteracted 103 yards on the ground from Rashard Mendenhall, 149 yards receiving from Santonio Holmes and 278 yards passing from Roethlisberger.
Brown had a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown nullified by one of the two penalties the Steelers committed on the play in last year’s game.
Fullback Will Johnson was called for an illegal block, which was declined. Cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke was called for holding, which was gleefully accepted.
“We had a chance for a punt return that could have changed the complexion of the game,” safety Will Allensaid.
The Steelers were penalized 10 times for 81 yards overall and the Raiders three times for 25 yards.
Allen still remembers the feeling of seeing a teammate in the end zone and then looking over his shoulder and seeing a yellow flag.
“It sucks,” he said. “You gotta play clean.”
STRANGE THINGS CAN HAPPEN
Steelers-Raiders history is replete with the unforeseen, if not the outright unimaginable.
The 2006 game fit the profile as the Raiders maintained a seven-point lead in the final minutes.
“I remember looking at the clock and it went from 1:50 to 1:20 in about three seconds, I kid you not,” safety Troy Polamalu recalled. “The only other person who saw it was (linebacker) Joey (Porter). We were looking at the clock and we were like ‘what?’
“We both walked over to the ref, ‘Hey, man, something’s wrong with the clock.’ He just shrugged at us. It was crazy.”
Steelers-Raiders games are often identified as such.