PITTSBURGH (AP)—Fittingly on a day Oakland and Pittsburgh brought back memories of the 1970s by playing an unpredictable game featuring a comeback and a last-minute winner, the Steelers won by going retro.
The Steelers returned to their roots—a strong running game and creative pressure defense—to open an early two-touchdown lead, then held off the rebuilding Raiders to win 24-21 Sunday on Jeff Reed’s 42-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining.
“We were good at times, shaky at times, but we still did what we had to and won,” quarterback Tommy Maddox said. “It was disappointing we let them back in the game, but everyone’s excited we won.”
Still, there was a lot of old left over from last year’s 4-12 season, including four turnovers.
“The ball was on the ground way too much today and that hurt us,” said quarterback Rich Gannon, who passed for 305 yards, but had a fumble and threw two interceptions. “I think we knew coming in everything wasn’t going to go perfect, but we made it difficult on ourselves.”
The Steelers led 14-0 and 21-10 before the Raiders tied it on Alvis Whitted’s fingertip catch of Gannon’s 38-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-12 and Gannon’s 2-point conversion pass to an uncovered Whitted with 4:51 remaining.
Bettis, relegated to the bench behind new starter Duce Staley despite being the No. 6 rusher in NFL history, was used only in goal-line situations but scored a career high-tying three touchdowns—all on 1-yard runs. He had more touchdowns (3) than yards rushing (1), as Staley, the former Eagles 1,000-yard rusher, ran for 91 yards.
“It’s definitely a first,” Bettis said of his new role. “But it feels good to contribute, and Duce and I have a good rapport.”
Coach Bill Cowher was determined to get back to the Steelers’ traditional strengths, their running game and a big-play defense, after experimenting during last year’s 6-10 season with a pass-heavy offense and a passive defense designed to allow few big plays.
The plan worked perfectly for much of the first half. The Steelers kept the ball for 8 1/2 minutes on a game-opening 67-yard drive that featured Staley running behind left guard Alan Faneca, five straight third-down conversions and Bettis’ scoring run.
“That what’s this team has been in the past, and that’s what we’re striving for,” new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said.
The Raiders spent most of the first half going nowhere, reminiscent of their 27-7 loss in Pittsburgh last season.
“We did everything possible to dig ourselves a hole and we dug a nice little one,” said Sapp, who had four tackles and no sacks in his first Raiders game. “We got ourselves out of it, but we just couldn’t get it done.”
Maddox’s 39-yard completion to Ward, the Steelers’ only long-yardage passing play, led to Bettis’ third scoring run and the 21-10 lead. But Maddox’s fumble, recovered by Travian Smith, set up Sebastian Janikowski’s 38-yard field goal.
“They let us hang around, but we couldn’t close the deal,” Raiders wide receiver Jerry Porter said. “We should be coming out of here with a win. We made a lot of errors.”
Several Raiders had cramping problems, forcing on-the-fly personnel moves that sometimes led to confusion. … The Raiders and Steelers have won seven Super Bowls between them, five in a span between the 1974 and 1979 seasons. … Raiders WR Jerry Rice started and made two catches, but didn’t play much in the second half. … Haggans had two sacks and two forced fumbles in his fifth career start. .. Oakland won its first two challenges and used up all three early in the second quarter. … The Steelers are 81-1-1 when leading by 11 or more points under Cowher. … Raiders CB Charles Woodson, who signed last week, held the Steelers’ Plaxico Burress to one catch.