PITTSBURGH (AP) — Jon Gruden’s long, arduous multi-state, multi-year rebuilding project may finally be nearing its end.
The swagger might be back for the Las Vegas Raiders. The deep ball certainly is.
Derek Carr threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns, including a pretty 61-yard strike to Henry Ruggs midway through the fourth quarter, as the Raiders toppled Pittsburgh 26-17 on Sunday.
Not bad for a team playing on a short week on the other side of the country without its starting running back and any sort of offensive balance. It didn’t matter, particularly once the Steelers lost star outside linebacker T.J. Watt to a groin injury in the second quarter.
“Honestly, anytime (Watt) is on the field he wrecks everything,” Carr said, later adding, “When he’s out of the game you notice he’s out but that doesn’t mean that we can do this or we can do that. We run our stuff in Las Vegas and have full confidence in our guys.”
It certainly looked like it.
Carr shredded the Pittsburgh secondary in Watt’s absence, completing 16 of 21 for 263 yards in the second half, including a 9-yard flip to Foster Moreau in the third quarter and a rainbow to Ruggs with 9:35 remaining that gave the Las Vegas defense all the cushion it would need.
“You just see this gear that not a lot of human beings have,” Carr said of Ruggs. “It makes it fun for me.”
Ben Roethlisberger passed for 295 yards, including a 25-yard catch-and-run early in the fourth quarter that rookie running back Najee Harris turned into the first touchdown of his career that drew the Steelers within 16-14.
The Raiders (2-0) responded immediately. Facing third-and-10 on Las Vegas’ next possession, Carr had plenty of time to step up and heave it to a streaking Ruggs, who raced past Pittsburgh’s Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ahkello Witherspoon and into the end zone as the Raiders beat the Steelers for the sixth time in their last eight meetings.
“Not many guys can run that fast and track the ball,” Gruden said of Ruggs. “It was certainly a big play. The protection, the revolving door we had up front in the critical moment and the throw … there was a lot of good stuff to go around.”
Ruggs finished with five receptions for 113 yards, one of four Raiders with five grabs as Carr spread it around.
“We’re loaded with playmakers,” Ruggs said. “We have guys ready to step up at any time.”
The Steelers held Las Vegas tight end Darren Waller relatively in check until it mattered. Waller’s 25-yard reception with just over 2 minutes to go set up Daniel Carlson’s fourth field goal that provided the final margin, sending the first full crowd at Heinz Field in nearly 21 months trudging toward the exit.
“I’m not going to say London Bridge is falling down, but we’ve got to grow from this,” Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward said. “We’ve got to keep harping on our mistakes and understand how big those (get off) plays are.”
A week after pulling off a stunner in Buffalo in the opener, Pittsburgh got off to another slow start.
This time, there would be no second-half surge.
Harris again found little room to run behind Pittsburgh’s retooled offensive line, managing just 39 yards on 10 carries. The first-round pick added five receptions for 43 yards, including an acrobatic stretch across the goal line for his first touchdown as a pro.
Still, the offense operated in only fits and starts. Roethlisberger completed 27 of 40 passes and absorbed 10 hits and two sacks while playing behind an offensive line featuring two rookies in left tackle Dan Moore Jr. and center Kendrick Green.
“Right now my play is just not good enough,” Roethlisberger said. “If I play better, we have a chance to win the football game.”
The offense’s inability to control the ball forced the Steelers’ suddenly injury-ravaged defense had to be on the field for long stretches. The Raiders held the ball for more than 34 minutes and had 286 of their 425 yards after halftime.
Steelers veteran right guard Trai Turner was ejected in the fourth quarter following an altercation with the Raiders defensive tackle Solomon Thomas. Video seemed to indicate Turner spit on Thomas, leading to referees to toss him from the rest of the game.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin believes Turner was simply reacting to being spat on.
“Trai is not a young guy,” Tomlin said. “He’s not overly emotional. He’s a flat-liner … I didn’t believe he did enough to be kicked out of the football game. That’s just my opinion.”
Raiders: Rookie LT Alex Leatherwood left in the second quarter with an oblique injury and did not return. … S Dallin Leavitt was evaluated for a concussion. … CB Casey Hayward Jr. dealt with cramps.
Steelers: DT Tyson Alualu left in the first quarter with a fractured right ankle and will be out indefinitely. … WR Diontae Johnson sustained a knee injury on the game’s final play. … CB Joe Haden and LB Devin Bush were inactive due to groin injuries.
Raiders: Host Miami next Sunday. Las Vegas is 0-2 against the Dolphins since Gruden returned as coach in 2018, including a 26-25 setback last December.
Steelers: Open AFC North play next Sunday when Cincinnati visits Heinz Field. Pittsburgh has won 14 of 16 against the Bengals.
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