PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers keep insisting they can absorb the endless string of injuries to their most vital parts, that they have the depth necessary to push for a playoff spot no matter who is — or isn’t — in the lineup.
Good thing, because they keep having to find out.
Pittsburgh escaped with a 38-35 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, winning it on Chris Boswell’s 18-yard field goal with 2 seconds remaining. Yet even as Boswell’s kick sailed through the uprights, franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was heading for an MRI on his injured left foot, the outcome of which might determine the fate of his team’s increasingly star-crossed season.
Pittsburgh (5-4) survived for an afternoon at least, overcoming a late rally by the Raiders behind another steady performance in relief by backup Landry Jones and a franchise-record day by wide receiver Antonio Brown, who set club marks with 17 catches for 284 yards, including a 57-yard sprint on the final drive that set up Boswell’s winner.
“I really don’t know what to say but `Wow,”‘ said Oakland safety Charles Woodson, who spent most of the day futilely chasing Brown around Heinz Field.
The Steelers were left at a loss themselves. The sight of your unquestioned leader hopping off the field midway through the fourth quarter will do that. Roethlisberger was in the midst of a spectacular second half when Oakland defensive end Aldon Smith landed on Roethlisberger’s foot during a sack.
Roethlisberger laid on the turf for several minutes then gingerly made his way to the sideline, careful not to put any pressure on the same leg that forced him to miss a month earlier in the year with a sprained left knee. He was taken to the trainer’s room on a cart then whisked away for further evaluation, his locker empty by the time his teammates piled in after nearly four exhausting hours.
The Steelers are already without running back Le’Veon Bell, center Maurkice Pouncey and starting left tackle Kelvin Beachum. Those losses they may be able to survive. Roethlisberger, however, is another matter.
“I joke around with it,” guard Ramon Foster said. “I say `I don’t know who (ticked) off the football gods, but they’re definitely letting us have it this year with the injuries. We’ve got to stay the course.”
Having Brown and DeAngelo Williams around should help. The two combined for 531 of Pittsburgh’s 597 total yards. Williams filled in spectacularly for Bell, running for 170 yards and two scores and adding 55 yards receiving. Not bad for a 32-year-old considered expendable by Carolina last spring after a decade in the backfield for the Panthers.
The Raiders (4-4) were trying to reach the halfway point with a winning record for the first time since 2001. Derek Carr nearly did it, throwing for 301 yards with four touchdowns and an interception. The second-year quarterback hit Michael Crabtree for a 38-yard score to wipe out a 14-point deficit and tie the game with 1:15 left.
Jones, who stepped in against Arizona three weeks ago to spark a second-half comeback, then found Brown over the middle and the All-Pro did the rest, spinning back toward the sideline before stepping out at the Oakland 15. Two runs by Williams brought the ball to the Raiders’ 1 and Boswell atoned for an earlier miss by drilling his 11th field goal in 12 tries.
“It keeps us in it,” Jones said. “If we can run the table and do some things I think we’ve got a shot.”
It’s a run the Steelers might have to do without Roethlisberger, who passed for 334 yards with two touchdowns and a pick during an afternoon in which he moved past Hall of Famers Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana and into 13th on the NFL list for career yards passing.
NOTES: Raiders RB Latavius Murray ran for 96 yards on 17 carries before leaving in the third quarter with concussion-like symptoms. … Crabtree finished with seven catches for 108 yards and two scores. Amari Cooper had seven grabs for 88 yards and a touchdown. … The Steelers converted their fourth 2-point conversion of the season. The NFL record for conversions in a year is six.