PITTSBURGH (AP) — No miracle ending this time. Just more of the same for the Las Vegas Raiders.
Essentially gifted a victory by New England last Sunday on one of the most improbable walk-off touchdowns in NFL history, the Raiders couldn’t keep the momentum going in a 13-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday night that all but eliminated them from the playoffs.
Las Vegas led for more than 50 minutes but yielded down the stretch against the emotionally-charged Steelers (7-8), letting Pittsburgh rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett drive 76 yards in 10 plays, the last 14 coming on a strike to rookie wide receiver George Pickens with 46 seconds remaining.
When Derek Carr threw his third and final interception — a floater that Pittsburgh’s Cam Sutton corralled with 29 seconds left — all the good mojo the Raiders had built while winning four of five to get back into the fringe of the postseason race had vanished.
Turning it over three times, committing a handful of costly penalties and being unable to take advantage of Pittsburgh’s inexperienced and ineffective offense will do that.
The game followed a formula that’s become second nature to Las Vegas during head coach Josh McDaniels’ uneven first season: It was tight all the way until the end. Given the way the Raiders’ defense held Pittsburgh out of the end zone for the first 59 minutes, maybe it shouldn’t have been.
“We’ve pulled out plenty and then to lose in this fashion when you have a shot to win, you realize you’re close but close doesn’t really count in this league,” said McDaniels, whose team has played in 12 one-score games so far. “I obviously have to do a better job to try and close the gap.”
Carr didn’t blame the frigid 8-degree (minus-13 Celcius) weather for his performance, and he hardly looked cold during an opening drive he finished off with a 14-yard touchdown to Hunter Renfroe.
Yet Las Vegas couldn’t create any real breathing room, thanks in large part to a return to the sloppy form that plagued it during a 2-5 start. Each of Carr’s three interceptions happened in Pittsburgh territory. Throw in penalties like a 15-yard facemask by tight end Foster Moreau that brought back a long run by Josh Jacobs, and the Raiders let Pittsburgh hang around for far too long.
“We thought we were making strides in some areas and obviously we didn’t do that well enough today,” Carr said. “Just got to do our job. Move on … . Tomorrow you’ve got to get ready for the next one. But this one stings.”
Particularly because of what it means big picture. Las Vegas is built to win now. Yet barring a miracle, it will miss the postseason despite a series of splashy offseason moves, namely trading for wide receiver Davante Adams.
While Adams has been dynamic, he was held to just two catches for 15 yards on a night Pittsburgh’s veteran-laden defense made enough stops for its impossibly young offense that features no skill position players older than 26 to get it together late.
“We’re talented, but talent doesn’t mean wins,” Carr said. “I’ve seen that firsthand in different years.”
The Las Vegas defense played well for most of the night, but lost defensive end Chandler Jones — whose unlikely walk-off lateral return last week against New England breathed life into the Raiders’ season — to an injury. He was joined on the sideline by inside linebacker Denzel Perryman late.
With two of their linchpins out, the Raiders couldn’t do much to disrupt Pickett, who steadily took the Steelers down the field in the final seconds. His best throw was his last, a fastball over the middle to Pickens, who easily split defenders even though he’s Pittsburgh’s best — and sometimes only — downfield threat.
“When you turn the ball over and give the other team more opportunities than you have, good field position, it’s impossible to overcome,” McDaniels said.