PITTSBURGH - Mike Tomlin wasn't trying to undermine his defense's confidence. The Pittsburgh Steelers coach was merely stating a fact.
Faced with a fourth down at the Pittsburgh 29 late in the fourth quarter of a tie game on Sunday, Tomlin made the unorthodox decision to go for it. While he pointed to the short distance as a factor, there was another one at play as well.
"I wasn't going to punt the football to them," Tomlin said. "We hadn't stopped them enough in the second half to do that."
The Steelers made the yardage to keep the ball, but it didn't matter anyway. The Raiders got one more crack at it, and the Steelers' suddenly erratic defense crumbled agOakland's anemic running game - which began the day 31st in rushing yards and last in yards per attempt - to roll up 119 yards on the ground and average a healthy 5.7 yards per carry.
The Steelers only got to Palmer once on a first-quarter sack by LaMarr Woodley, and Palmer managed to escape a rush from Woodley and Keisel to fire a 6-yard touchdown pass to Denarius Moore to bring Oakland with a field goal early in the fourth quarter.
No wonder Tomlin opted to gamble on fourth down even with the ball well within Janikowski's field goal range should the Steelers have failed. Isaac Redman plowed ahead for six yards, but it still didn't keep Pittsburgh from punting it away to give the Raiders the ball back with 1:43 to go.
Six plays took Oakland 49 yards and suddenly the Steelers - dominant a week ago in a romp over the New York Jets - don't look nearly as imposing.
While Keisel allowed the defense certainly missed injured starters James Harrison and Troy Polamalu, they didn't play against the Jets either and the Steelers managed just fine.
Of course, that game was home. Pittsburgh doesn't look quite so comfortable on the road, where it has dropped four of its last five dating back to last season.
"We've got to step into hostile environments and play ball," Keisel said. "We can't just be reliant upon Heinz Field. In order for us to be the team we want to be we have to play well on the road. We haven't shown that we can do that yet."
Showing anything resembling the tenacity that's been part of the franchise's hallmark for the better part of the last decade would help. At the rate, Pittsburgh's offense is producing, the defense need only be reliable for the Steelers to thrive.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger rolled up 384 passing yards and tossed four touchdowns and Pittsburgh controlled possession for more than 36 minutes for the second straight game.
The Raiders hardly needed the ball, however, to post their highest point total in a year and leave the Steelers with a long plane ride home and two weeks of anxiousness ahead.
"We've got to close out," wide receiver Mike Wallace said. "We just kept giving them ways back into the game. We just can't do that, we've got to be able to close out the game. If we want to be a playoff, Super Bowl caliber team, we can't lose games like that."
The Steelers have already lost two of them.