The most scrutinized aspect of the Steelers in the preseason was not their running game, not their aging defense, not their offensive line and not Mike Wallace's holdout.
The topic that drew more attention than any was how quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and new offensive coordinator Todd Haley would get along, how Roethlisberger would accept his new offense with all its new terminology in a new playbook, its new emphasis on improving the ground game and the high-percentage passes.
On Sunday, Roethlisberger made it all work again with one of the better games of his career, certainly among his best in a defeat. He did so by dipping back into the old playbook, presumably the one that former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians ran. Incredibly, Roethlisberger said he called plays from that old offense and his teammates helped pull them off.
"I think offensively we did the things we wanted to do," Roethlisberger said. "We no-huddled the whole second half, I felt we moved the ball down the field. There are plays out there I called that aren't in our playbook. I know that sounds crazy, things we had from years past, guys were on the same page and it worked.
"I take my hat off to the line, to the receivers, the tight ends, because they made plays."
What would make him call plays from the previous playbook?
"Because they were going to be open, and they worked every time I did, so that was good," Roethlisberger said.
Maybe not every time. Again, the offense had the ball late in the game with a chance to win and could not pull it off. They spent plenty of time moving from their 20 to the 36 -- they took nearly five full minutes off the clock before handing it back over to Oakland with 1:43 left.
It's the third time in the past four games they've been unable to come through in that situation -- at Denver in the playoffs and again in the opener and Sunday in Oakland.
"We have to finish," Roethlisberger acknowledged. "I want the ball. I know our offense, I went out there and said 'Hey, this is what we want, 80 yards to win the game.' I love that opportunity, I love that chance.
"We feel like we're close, we're just not there yet."
It's difficult to find ways to lose a game the way the Steelers played Sunday in Oakland, and after their players and coaches watched video of it Monday they likely came to the same conclusion.
Roethlisberger played one of the best games of his career: Four touchdowns, no interceptions, sacked once, nearly 400 yards passing and a 123.2 passer rating. The Steelers held the ball 12 1/2 minutes longer than the Raiders and they outgained them in total yards on offense, 433- 321. The Steelers again converted most of their third downs, 8 of 14.
Usually when there's such a statistical disparity in a Steelers loss, turnovers are the culprit, as they were in Oakland in 2006. Sunday, the Steelers lost two, the Raiders one. That stat was not that decisive.
So, how did Oakland pull an upset with such a body of evidence working in favor of the Steelers?
"I think we had them on the ropes a couple of drives and for whatever reason they got the stops and we weren't able to put them away," said Heath Miller, off to a torrid pace with four touchdown receptions. "When you let good teams in this league hang around, hang around, hang around all game, sooner or later they're going to make some plays."
The Raiders did, and while they waited until the fourth quarter to stage their comeback, Oakland may very well have won the game in the first half even though they were dominated.
The Steelers rang up 235 yards to the Raiders' 105 in the first half, making 5 of 9 third downs to the Raiders' 0 for 4. Problem was, the Raiders were able to hang with them, trailing, 17-14, at halftime. They did so with two big plays -- a 64-yard touchdown run by Darren McFadden (the longest in six years against the Steelers) and Jonathan Dwyer's fumble that gave the Raiders the ball at the Steelers 30.
"I think we were able to move the ball but they made some plays when it counted, they made some real good plays at the end," Wallace said. "We didn't get it done. It doesn't matter how much we were able to move the ball and do what we wanted to do, we didn't get the plays when it counted, we didn't get it done when it counted, that's all that really matters."
• Heath Miller did not practice until Friday because of a rib cartilage injury. His two touchdown catches matched what he had all last season and all of 2010. His four in the first three games puts him on his fastest scoring pace (he had seven in 2007).
"Heath's a beast," Roethlisberger said Sunday. "He fought through some big-time pain I'm sure some people don't know about, some injury and I didn't think he would play. That just shows what kind of competitor, warrior and teammate he is because he had a heck of a game."
• Miller on his team's 1-2 start, tying for the worst three-game opening in Mike Tomlin's six years: "It's not where we wanted to be, it's not where we planned to be, but it's where we are."
• Denver's Javon Walker ran 72 yards for a touchdown in 2006 at Heinz Field, the previous time someone had a run longer than McFadden's against the Steelers.
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published September 25, 2012 4:00 AM