Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

December 07, 2018 at 6:34 pm.

Pittsburgh-Oakland may be afternoon surprise

In a disappointing commentary on current times for Raider Nation, this week’s iteration of that once great rivalry with the Pittsburgh Steelers was downgraded from prime-time television to a mere 1:25 (PT) Sunday afternoon squabble at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

Even sadder, this is probably the final meeting between Pittsburgh and the Raiders team still in its Oakland hometown.

Oh, the pre-game buildup includes scheduled rants from former Raiders linebacker Phil Villapiano and former Steelers running back Franco Harris, with each disagreeing on what really happened on perhaps the most historic play in NFL history – The Immaculate Reception.

That play, which launched a Steelers dynasty (much as The Tuck Rule play would later start the New England Patriots’ turn at dominance), still sticks in the craw of former Raiders head coach John Madden, who believes that the fix was in at Pittsburgh when the officials used a dugout phone before making the touchdown call.

“They screwed us,” Madden said in many ways, many times, echoing the sentiments of Raiders players and fans. That play grew beyond folk lore into one of the most revisited replays in NFL history. The Steelers players delighted to conspire in some insipid code of silence never to retell the story as they honestly saw it. Instead they played out the infamous deed to the max – including a replica of Harris seemingly catching the ball in a statue at the Pittsburgh airport.

But as the 7-4-1 Steelers prepare to visit the 2-10 Raiders in Oakland for the last time (barring some unexpected playoff scenario in the 2019 season), the history of two teams that shaped the Golden Era of Football in the 1970s is as forgotten as bell-bottom pants.

The Steelers-Raiders as a great rivalry is out of style.

The Steelers arrive in Oakland clinging to hopes of making the playoffs despite defection and injuries leaving them digging deep for a starting running back. And the Raiders, who depart their birth home for Las Vegas by 2020, are lining up with players left over from a purge of top stars.

Truth be told, the Raiders and quarterback Derek Carr actually played fairly well the last few weeks and the Steelers have good reason to view this last visit to Oakland as a trap game. The Steelers’ next game after Oakland is against the New England Patriots.

And after last week, the Raiders have served notice. Just ask the folks at the Raiders’ future home. Vegas bookies dissed the Raiders last week as 15.5-point underdogs against the visiting Kansas City Chiefs, giving Oakland its biggest home negative point spread in 20 years.

The Raiders lost, 40-33, but showed a very efficient offense that managed 442 yards, including 171 on the ground. The passing game showed efficient use of the run-pass option (RPO) that relied on Carr’s ability to (1) make the right pre-snap read and (2) influence the quick and athletic Chiefs defense into doing what he wanted.

For a two-win team it was a thing of beauty that surely must bother a Pittsburgh defense that gave up 26 points in the second half last week in a fall-from-in-front, 33-30 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Even worse, the Steelers also lost running back James Conner (ankle), who was making the season-long absence of Le’Veon Bell tolerable.

All of this is bad timing for Pittsburgh. The Steelers hold a half-game lead over the Ravens entering this weekend’s games. The Ravens have won their past two games while the Steelers have lost two in a row. So even if this Sunday’s matchup doesn’t conjure memories of the historic wars between these teams, it sure is important to the Steelers.

With his 14th completion Sunday, Carr moved into second place in NFL history for most completions through a player’s first five years. Only Peyton Manning (1,749) leads Carr with four games remaining in 2018. Carr also surpassed Rich Gannon for second on the club’s all-time passing yards list, currently sitting with 17,802.

So, despite being dumped by NBC, it will be interesting to see how FOX’s afternoon game plays out. Based on DNA alone, it belongs in prime time.

SERIES HISTORY: 23rd regular-season meeting. Raiders lead this rivalry, which often determined AFC supremacy in the 1970s, 12-10, and have won the last three games played in Oakland. The Steelers won the most recent meeting, 38-35, in 2015 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. The last three games have all been decided by three points. The Raiders and Steelers have met in the playoffs on six occasions. The Raiders won the most recent playoff game in 1983 when they resided in Los Angeles.