Stacking victories: The Steelers came together on all fronts on Sunday night, defeating the Las Vegas Raiders, 23-18, in front of a ‘home’ crowd at Allegiant Stadium.
“Man, a really good, tough, hard-fought victory in all three phases,” said Coach Mike Tomlin. “It’s good to stack victories.
“We got to make winning a habitual thing. Just to stack winning performance on top of winning performance is significant. It’s also our first opportunity to play on the road in a hostile environment, this being their home opener, we had to manage that component of the game. There’s opportunities for growth, obviously, but I’m really proud of the efforts and the playmaking.”
The Steelers held off a late surge by the Raiders for the 23-18 win, with cornerback Levi Wallace intercepting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to close out the game.
“We did what we needed to do, secure victory. Still very early stages of the year. We got a lot to learn. We got a lot to teach. But it’s good to do so with the victory.”
Steelers Nation did turn out for the black and gold, but the key was performing and delivering for them.
“You gotta win the crowd,” said Tomlin. “You know what I mean? You got to do enough to win the crowd. And so, we don’t take it for granted. We got to make enough plays to get the type of support that you speak of.”
Quarterback Kenny Pickett threw two touchdown passes, hitting Calvin Austin III and Pat Freiermuth, for his first multiple touchdown game of his career.
“He made the necessary plays,” said Tomlin. “I thought he was good in the environment. I thought he was a good communicator. He did the job tonight.”
The offense as a whole produced after getting out of the gates slow in the first two games of the season, and Tomlin said the key wasn’t looking to boost confidence on that side of the ball, but just secure victory.
“We’re not looking for confidence, we’re looking for victory,” said Tomlin. “That’s what we came here to do tonight. And we did.”
Bringing pressure: Linebacker T.J. Watt continues to dominate, with another performance that helped the Steelers secure victory.
Watt sacked Raiders quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo twice on Sunday night, bringing his season total to six sacks in just three games.
“We knew they were going to do some things early to protect him and I feel like we had a couple good keys to be able to put pressure on him early,” said Watt. “And there’s still a couple more out there. We wish we would have got more pressure on, but a step in the right direction and a win feels really good.”
The defense as a whole accounted for four sacks and brought pressure that forced Garoppolo into some errant passes.
“I say every week we’re going to have to go back and look at the film, but anytime they’re chipping as much as they were tonight or anytime they weren’t chipping, we were trying to make it our best effort to make the pass rush as hot as possible,” said Watt. “And I think we did a good job of keeping them under duress tonight. And it helps when we have them in those obvious passing situations where we can pin ears back. And obviously when the guys in the back, they’re playing as well as they were tonight, it helps to have that quarterback hold it for just a split second longer.”
After giving up a touchdown early, cornerbacks Levi Wallace and Patrick Peterson stepped up big-time. Wallace had two interceptions, including one that sealed the win, and Peterson had one.
Watt liked what he saw from the way they fought back.
“That’s what we’re about. We’re about resiliency,” said Watt. “And if you see the wide receivers that we have on our team, they get their plays in practice, too. They get their plays in training camp, and our guys always bounce back. We always appreciate a challenge and I’m proud of those guys, but I’m not surprised because I see it every day.”
What else Watt has been seeing is incredible support from Steelers fans, who were out in full force in Las Vegas.
“Steelers Nation has been incredible, whether we’re at Acrisure or we’re here on the road, or hopefully next week too,” said Watt. “I just want them all to know the importance that is to the game. To be able to have a team on a silent count in their own stadium was pretty demoralizing and it also helps the pass rush so much more. I’m very appreciative for everybody that came out tonight and was loud.”
Positive take aways: They connected on a massive, 72-yard catch-and-run touchdown early and an even bigger chains-moving, clock-draining, 6-yard completion late, but it was the six-play, 81-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter that really got quarterback Kenny Pickett’s attention.
It was, perhaps, the first time all season the Steelers’ offense consistently functioned as intended.
And the score it produced, a 13-yard touchdown pass from Pickett to tight end Pat Freiermuth that upped the Steelers’ lead to 23-7, was a critical component of what ended up as a 23-18 triumph over the Raiders on Sunday night at Allegiant Stadium.
“I think so,” Pickett confirmed. “I think you saw a lot of different things in that drive. You know, a play-action strike to ‘G.P’ (wide receiver George Pickens), Pat over the middle, Pat off the bootleg (for the touchdown), some scramble drill stuff that we did, hit (wide receiver) Allen (Robinson) on the sideline.
“There were a lot of things in that drive that were really positive so I absolutely think that’s a positive that we can take away.”
So was putting the game away.
The Steelers regained possession with 2:22 left in the fourth quarter and nursing a 23-18 lead. Running back Najee Harris managed a combined 8 yards on a couple of runs that set up a third-and-2 from the Steelers’ 33-yard line with 2:12 remaining in regulation.
Pickett accepted a shotgun snap in an empty set, ran a bootleg to the left and found Robinson for the first down that all but put the game away.
The Steelers didn’t punt the ball back to the Raiders until 23 seconds were left to play.
The Raiders snapped the ball from Las Vegas 15 with 12 ticks left and threw an interception.
“The coverage was the coverage we were hoping (for), the look,” Pickett said. “Allen did a great job catching the ball, getting down. He’s such a trustworthy guy and puts so much time into it, studies like I study, sees what I see so it’s awesome to have a guy like that.
“In that situation it’s 50-50, probably, run or pass. In that formation we definitely had runs out of it. I was hoping they were expecting us to try to run the ball and run the clock out and give us a one-high (safety) look where Allen can go win on the outside. I think it was a great play call and great execution.”
Pickett finished 16-for-28 passing, for 235 yards, with two touchdown passes, a career first, and no interceptions.
The 72-yard scoring strike to Austin that tied the game at 7-7 in the first quarter stood out as the type of play the Steelers will need to make when such opportunities present themselves.
“It was big, we needed it,” Pickett said. “They were doing a really good job of doubling George all night, making it really hard to get him touches. So that leaves other guys singled up and ‘Cal’ had press (coverage), he took the post (route) and it was really good.
“We missed that earlier in the season against ‘San Fran.’ It was good to hit it tonight.”
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