By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — It took a while for it to get going, but once the Pittsburgh Steelers offense got untracked it could only be slowed by penalties.
And while there were plenty during a 35-3 pounding against the Oakland Raiders — 14 for a team-record 163 yards — the Steelers appear to back on top of their game after a brief lapse. Sure, the Raiders didn’t provide much opposition in any phase of the game, but a lot of that had to do with the Steelers.
“I liked the way the men responded to get a winning performance,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We got contributions from a lot of people in all three phases, but I thought our leadership was spectacular today.
“The quarterback, Ben, was what we needed him to be today. And I thought James Farrior, No. 51, was what we needed him to be today. Coming off the way we played in the last game … it was a team victory.”
The Raiders took a 3-0 lead with a field goal on their opening drive, aided by a questionable late-hit penalty by LaMarr Woodley on quarterback Jason Campbell and defensive holding by Ike Taylor.
The Steelers didn’t get rolling until their third series, but it was a beauty. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger guided the club on a 14-play, 85-yard masterpiece in 8:06 for a touchdown. Roethlisberger was 18-for-29 overall for 275 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions and two sacks. He also ran for 55 yards on three carries.
Roethlisberger connected with Mike Wallace for 27 yards to erase a clipping penalty that opened the scoring drive. He also hit Emmanuel Sanders for 13 on a third-and-seven play, Hines Ward for 13 and Mewelde Moore for seven on a third-and-six to the 5. Rashard Mendenhall plowed into the end zone from there.
“We came out on fire and were fired up the whole game,” Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said. “We had energy from the first play on. We had some three-and-outs, but we were ready for this game. We came into it with a little attitude, and we drove on them early in the game. That was a big drive for us.”
Pouncey left the game later with what was called a thigh bruise, but Tomlin said he had a knee-on-knee hit. Pouncey wouldn’t clarify it, but said he was a little sore but be all right later in the week after some rest.
The Steelers got the ball in great field position two series later and needed just seven plays and 3:30 to cover the 56 yards. Wallace ran for 19 yards on a double-reverse. Roethlisberger connected with Antonio Brown, who dressed for the first time since early in the season, for 21 yards. Roethlisberger scored from the 16 on third-and-six.
Lawrence Timmons forced a fumble that Ike Taylor recovered at the Oakland 35. On first down from the 22, Roethlisberger hooked up with a diving Sanders, who skidded into the end zone for the score and a 21-3 lead. There were two personal fouls on the play.
Richard Seymour was ejected for punching Roethlisberger in the face, and Chris Kemoeatu was penalized for retaliating with an open-handed slap.
The Raiders replaced Campbell with Pittsburgh native Bruce Gradkowski, and there were no heroics like the young quarterback had last year. Troy Polamalu intercepted him and returned it to midfield. Two places later, Roethlisberger found Wallace open across the middle, and he raced in for a 52-yard touchdown to put the game away.
“We’ve been trying to get me the ball like that for a while now, and it broke wide open,” Wallace said. “I like to make those catches and run with it about as much as I do the long ones. And I really was glad to finally get some yardage on an end-around earlier in the game.”
Isaac Redman replaced Mendenhall for the Steelers final drive and ran hard. But the biggest play was a screen pass from Roethlisberger that resulted in a 16-yard touchdown to set the final score.
New place-kicker Shaun Suisham didn’t get a chance to kick a field goal, but he hammered home all five extra point attempts and was solid on kickoffs with two touchbacks and an average to about the 5-yard line.
Note: The only other injury was OG Chris Kemoeatu (leg cramps), but he returned later in the game. … Ramon Foster replaced Trai Essex at right guard, which Tomlin said was solely a performance-based decision.