Palmer leads Raiders to buzzer-beater field goal to top Steelers
The potential game-winning drive seemed to be a dud after two quick incomplete passes, but perhaps the most pivotal play of the game ensued on 3rd and 10 - Palmer hit tight end Brandon Myers over the middle for 15 yards and a first down. Everything then clicked for the Raiders offense, as Palmer connected on three more passes in a row, setting up kicker Sebastian Janikowski with a 43 yard field goal. As soon as the ball took flight off his foot, Janikowski had one hand raised high as he stared into a raucous crowd at the O.co Coliseum - he was sure the kick split the uprights. The clock was at 0:00, and the Raiders had a three-point victory over one of the AFC's elite.
The win was unlikely for the Raiders, who faced a plethora of injuries to key players. They were without both of their starting cornerbacks, an already thin position for the Raiders, which forced them to move versatile free safety Michael Huff to a full-time cornerback position. When the man replacing Huff at safety, Matt Giordano, went down with an injury, Huff was forced to move back to safety, shaking up the secondary once more.
Already without receiver Jacoby Ford for the season, the Raiders lost starting wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey to a scary neck/head injury after a helmet-to-chin hit from Steelers' safety Ryan Mundy. This was just another very serious example of why the NFL needs to get the real referees back on the field, as Mundy was not penalized for the hit. DHB was knocked unconscious, but was able to give a thumbs up while being wheeled off on a stretcher and is in stable condition at a local hospital.
Miles Burris started in place of injured outside linebacker Aaron Curry for the third straight game. Burris ended up making one of the biggest defensive plays of the game, hitting Roethlisberger as he threw incomplete (pictured to the left) to force a punt setting the Raiders up for their game-winning drive.
Finally, starting right tackle Khalif Barnes was inactive, and Willie Smith, claimed off waivers on September 1st, made the start. Interestingly enough, the offensive line looked far better than it had in the first two games, finally opening up holes for electrifying running back Darren McFadden, who finished with 113 rushing yards.
The most promising sign for the Raiders was their offensive line, which finally looked comfortable in their new zone blocking scheme. They opened holes for McFadden and protected Palmer, who was sacked only once. As a team, the Raiders ripped off 5.7 yards per carry, which gave them a big edge over the Steelers, who boasted only a 2.7 yard average.
The biggest concern for the Raiders remains to be their depleted secondary. Top corner Ron Bartell was placed on the injured reserve with a shoulder injury, and number two corner Shawntae Spencer is out indefinitely with a foot injury. The fact that the Raiders' down-linemen aren't rushing the passer as efficiently as expected has the secondary struggling mightily to stay with opposing receivers.
The Raiders travel to Denver to play the Broncos next week, where they'll look to make some noise within the division. If the offense can continue to improve the way it did this past week, they'll have a shot at knocking the division favorites down to a 1-3 record while propelling themselves to 2-2. Their biggest challenge will be keeping Peyton Manning from completing 110% of his passes.