The cry came from an unidentifiable voice among the Oakland Raiders' running backs, likely Justin Fargas:
"Let's get out of this hell-hole."
You can bet the Raiders paid attention to Mike Tomlin's highlight quote in the aftermath of the overtime loss to Baltimore about unleashing a version of Hades in the next game, against Oakland. The Raiders, with fans infamous for their studded collars, instead put a leash on the Steelers yesterday, 27-24.
"It helped motivate us," offered quiet center Samson Satele.
"Oh, yeah. We had his comments up on the board," added receiver Todd Watkins. "That kind of drove us all week, when you make a statement like that. A similar situation when [Antonio] Pierce of the Giants made some comments about us, that just fired us up. I hope the next team says something about this team.
"Our receivers coach [Sanjay Lal] gave us a message: The Miracle on Ice, Buster Douglas knocking out Tyson. ... It wasn't unbelievable for us."
Seton-LaSalle High's Bruce Gradkowski wasn't merely 0 for 2 starting against his hometown team; he was statistically abysmal. He had a 20.2 passer rating combined in his Tampa Bay and Cleveland starts against the Steelers. He had five interceptions and nary a touchdown pass. He had a how-low-can-you-go 1.0 passer rating for the Browns last Dec. 28, enduring a woeful 5 for 16 for 18 yards and two Tyrone Carter interceptions, one returned for a score.
So, for him, a touchdown, let alone a victory, was intensely gratifying.
"This is ... the top game," he said after completing 20 for 33 for 308 yards and three fourth-quarter scores. His 121.8 passer rating and his yardage were career highs -- he had never passed for more than 225 yards in his 27 previous NFL games.
"It's exciting to come home to Pittsburgh, where I was born and raised. And I can't describe the love and support that I've gotten all week from my family, my friends, even the Pittsburgh fans.
"We had some huge plays on third-and-short. The safeties were up, and [Louis] Murphy did a great job. We put it all together today. It was something mom cooked Friday night, maybe."
"I'm just trying to win a game," Tomlin said, asked whether he could foresee his team reaching the postseason. "What's the whole coach [Jim] Mora response to that question? That's where I'm at."
Don't expect Troy Polamalu (PCL) back for Cleveland Thursday. "On a short week, I doubt [he'll return]," Tomlin said, "but we'll see."
As for Gay, who likely isn't going to play Thursday, Tomlin added: "Looks like he sustained a concussion of some kind out there. I don't know to what extent at this point." More details may come today.
Imagine yielding three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter alone to an Oakland offense that:
Mustered five such passes all season, and 10 touchdowns total;
Failed to conjure as many points in a single game this year, topping out at 20 twice.
This fourth consecutive loss and fifth blown fourth-quarter lead by the Steelers all points to a troubled defensive backfield.
On the 75-yard bomb to Murphy -- who tied his season output in five and a half minutes with two touchdown catches -- Tomlin said Ike Taylor played it incorrectly, as did an unnamed safety.
"He's supposed to stay inside of him, inside of that man, and potentially pick up some help from the backside," Tomlin said of Taylor. "Of course, neither happened."
Taylor's jump-ball attempt at an interception with 35 seconds left likewise resulted in failure, with Murphy -- an inch taller, though he looked longer -- out-leaping him for a 23-yard reception to the Steelers' 17. Two snaps later, Oakland scored the game-winning touchdown.
"There are some things we can work on, [like] the two-minute defense," safety Ryan Clark said. "There are some things coverage-wise we need to step up. ... We allow their guy to go up over us and catch it. We can't do that."
Said Tom Cable, the Oakland coach for whom this was considered a game that, in the event of a loss, could have led to his ouster: "[Yesterday] morning, it felt like we had a real matchup issue for them and our receivers. So, if we could protect [Gradkowski], he'd have a shot at times, and that certainly came true."
Santonio Holmes had a career-high day with 149 yards on eight receptions. He also reached a career high in total receiving yards, with 987. But the most important number to him: The Steelers' 0-for-3 tally in red zone touchdowns. In fact, they have failed to score a touchdown in their past 10 forays inside the opposing 20-yard line in their past three home games.
"It's our duty to go down and score seven points every time," Holmes said. "When we don't capitalize on our first opportunity with the big kickoff return [by Stefan Logan] and put up three points, it makes a big difference in the game."
They did it twice in the fourth quarter. First, Holmes' 57-yard catch and run arranged Rashard Mendenhall's touchdown for a 17-13 Steelers lead. Then, four seconds inside the two-minute warning, Hines Ward caught an 11-yard touchdown lob from Roethlisberger to present the Steelers with a 24-20 lead.
"The party was getting ready to get started," Holmes said. "And that's how we felt, knowing that the offense went down and did our job. We left everything to the defense. A couple of mishaps here and there, and [the Raiders] won the ballgame. It was very unacceptable by us as a team."
LaMarr Woodley topped the Steelers with six solo tackles, three tackles for losses, three quarterback hurries and two of their three sacks -- the third was credited as a team sack, though he was the first to touch Gradkowski down.
Still and all, Woodley and the defense were doing jobs in the opening three quarters that they couldn't duplicate in the fourth. "Just getting off the field, not allowing them to hit the big plays, getting sacks, putting their back against the wall: We did all that, but, when it counted, we didn't do that," Woodley said.
"We allowed the quarterback to have time to throw the ball down the field, and they hit the big plays."
That's what those Hail Mary passes used to be called, Big Ben Left and Right. Roethlisberger threw one of them on the final play yesterday, and it almost worked.
"We had a shot," said Roethlisberger, who went 10 for 10 passing in the second half to that point. "It looked like Hines was limping a little, so I moved him to the other side and brought Limas [Sweed] over. Limas had the height. All you can do is throw it up and hope."
Chuck Finder can be reached at email@example.com .