PITTSBURGH >> The Pittsburgh Steelers injury list has grown so long this season, guard Ramon Foster joked the football gods must be ticked at his team.
Doesn’t seem quite so funny anymore, not with the franchise quarterback hurt again and his immediate status uncertain.
Ben Roethlisberger hopped to the sideline with a busted left foot midway through the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 38-35 victory over the Oakland Raiders, his face a mix of frustration and pain after all 265 pounds of Oakland defensive end Aldon Smith landed on Roethlisberger’s leg during a sack.
By the time backup Landry Jones engineered a late drive to set up Chris Boswell’s 18-yard game-winner, Roethlisberger was already out of the stadium to get his foot examined. The extent of the damage wasn’t immediately known, but it seems unlikely he’ll be available next Sunday against Cleveland, putting the offense and Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes again in the hands of Jones.
The former Oklahoma star was passable last month while filling in as Roethlisberger dealt with a sprained left knee. Jones rallied Pittsburgh past Arizona on Oct. 18 but was largely ineffective in a loss to Kansas City a week later. He appeared just fine during his brief appearance against the Raiders, completing 4 of 6 passes for 79 yards, including a 57-yard hookup with Antonio Brown that put Boswell in position to snap Pittsburgh’s two-game losing streak.
“It gives you confidence,” Jones said. “The more you can play, the more you can get in, the more confidence you get.”
Having Brown around certainly helps. All the All-Pro wide receiver did was set franchise marks for receptions (17) and yards receiving (284) while adding 22 yards rushing.
“It just makes life easy,” Jones said. “If you get man-to-man and he gets matched up outside, there’s not a lot of reading going on. You’re going to try and fit the ball in there.”
Some other takeaways as the Steelers (5-4) moved back over .500 while the Raiders (4-4) saw their bid to have a winning record at the midway point for the first time since 2001 come up short despite a late rally from a 14-point deficit.
UNSTOPPABLE BROWN: The Steelers went right at the NFL’s 31st-ranked pass defense by coming up with various ways to get the ball to Brown, using a wide variety of sets to provide favorable matchups. Brown got off to a hot start, catching 10 passes for 180 yards in the first half alone, and simply didn’t stop. He turned a slant pattern into the splash play needed to set up Boswell, hauling in the pass in the middle of the field then taking off down the sideline.
“I really don’t know what to say but ‘Wow,'” Oakland safety Charles Woodson said.
CARR CAN DRIVE: Oakland quarterback Derek Carr basically matched Roethlisberger throw for throw. The rising second-year star passed for 301 yards and four scores, including a pretty 38-yard rainbow to Michael Crabtree that tied the game with 1:15 to go. Yet the pass Carr will remember is the interception in the end zone on Oakland’s penultimate drive, only the fourth pick he’s thrown all year.
“We could have done so much more,” Carr said. “That’s the thing that hurts me. When we lose close games like this, I’m hard on myself.”
WILLING WILLIAMS: Steelers backup running back DeAngelo Williams’ legs didn’t exactly look 32 while starting in place of All-Pro Le’Veon Bell, who is out for the season with a right knee injury. Williams ran for 170 yards and two scores and added 55 yards receiving. Heady territory for a player Carolina appeared eager to part with last spring.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” Williams said. “It’s all about production. I go in and try not to let people out work me.”
TOUGH LUCK: Oakland running back Latavius Murray piled up 96 yards on 17 carries before leaving in the third quarter to undergo the concussion protocol after he fumbled while absorbing a big hit from Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell. The fumble was one of three turnovers by the Raiders, with two of them coming deep in Pittsburgh territory and the other setting up a short Steelers’ touchdown.
OTHER ISSUES: Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward wasn’t exactly in a celebratory mood after giving up a two-touchdown advantage in the fourth quarter.
“When you put yourself in position for them to score a numerous amount of times, that shark is going to bite back,” Heyward said. “The stove is eventually going to get hot. I just can’t believe we’re playing like this. We’ve got to get a lot better.”