By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — For a while there, it seemed like an old-time game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders.
Both teams entered the game leading their respective divisions. There were a lot of bit hits, big plays and penalties in the game. Boy, were there a lot of penalties. In fact, the Steelers set a team record in their resounding 35-3 victory Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.
The Steelers were penalized 14 times, just three flags off the standard, but for 163 yards to set a record. The previous mark was 154 yards against Cincinnati Sept. 17, 1989. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin wasn’t thrilled, but he didn’t complain much afterward. The Raiders had seven penalties for 55 yards.
“The game got away from us,” Tomlin said. “Both teams. It was unfortunate, but I’m not going to let that dominate our thought. We made plays today, but of course we need to look at some of the things that happened from a penalty standpoint in the game. But, just in general, I thought the game got away from everyone involved. Both teams.
“(But) I’m not going to question the officiating. I understand the climate that we’re in. (So), I’m just not going to do it. Our guys aren’t going to do it. We’re just going to play ball as fairly as we can and as cleanly as we can, and that’s what we did today. And that’s what we’re always going to try to do, but we didn’t do it very successfully today in some instances.”
The worst play came from the Raiders and 6-foot-6, 310-pound defensive tackle Richard Seymour, who turned around and punched Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger after a Steelers touchdown. Steelers offensive guard Chris Kemoeatu smacked him in the head with an open hand after that and was penalized 15 yards as well, but only Seymour was ejected.
“It’s not something to dwell on, a negative in the game,” Roethlisberger said. “It is what it is. I was not expecting that from him. We’ll move on. I just said: ‘Let’s get ready for the extra point.’ … We knew coming in that it was going to be a physical game, (and) there was a lot of pushing and shoving and extra-curricular stuff.”
The Raiders and Steelers have been playing physical football for decades now, although the Steelers have been more successful lately. But the animosity apparently still exists between the two teams.
“I heard that Big Ben said something, and I guess Big Rich didn’t like it,” Oakland defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said. “They hold a lot. We knew that coming into the game. Coach stressed all week that they hold a lot. We stressed that we not get into it, but when you’re in the heat of battle, sometimes you lose your temper. They came out trying to enforce their toughness on us. I don’t feel like they manhandled us. We just didn’t execute, but … they didn’t run the ball down our throats.”
The Steelers actually ran for 162 yards, a pretty large amount without a 100-yard rusher, and passed for 269. So, 431 offensive yards is dominant. And defensively, the Steelers held the Raiders to 182 total yards with just 61 rushing. So, overall, it was a dominant Steelers performance despite the overwhelming penalty calls by the officials.
Clearly, though, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has created an atmosphere where practically anything can get called. For the second week in a row, Steelers defensive end LaMarr Woodley was called for roughing the passer on play where he appeared to let up and barely pushed the quarterback.
“Even if you try to pull up, they’re still hitting us, and it’s somebody new each week,” Woodley said.
“Although, last week it was me, and this week it was me. Debo (James Harrison) also got called this week, but I believe it when you say it’s a record for penalty yardage.
“We just have to try to watch what we’re doing, but when they can just reach into their pockets and throw the flag every time, that’s out of our hands. Sometimes, when you go to try to talk to the referee to get an explanation, they don’t want to talk to you. They just want to move on to the next play.”
Harrison’s penalty was a tough call as well, because he drilled Oakland quarterback Jason Campbell with a perfect form tackle and put him down like Raiders owner Al Davis likes to say, the quarterback must go down and must go down hard. But Harrison didn’t understand why he was flagged.
“I’m not worried about the calls,” Harrison said. “We’ll see what happens with those once Wednesday gets here. The way I see it, I don’t think it was a callable flag — a good, clean hit. I don’t know. I guess he felt differently. (But) our defense is going to play together no matter what, and when you get a lot of penalties called against you that’s going to bring you closer together.”
Steelers safety Ryan Clark also got called for a helmet-to-helmet hit that didn’t appear to be close to that.
“I didn’t ask for an explanation, but we’ll have to look at it on film and see what happened,” Clark said. “I thought I led with my shoulder and hit him in the back, but right now it’s a game where the referees have to be on edge and have to make the call first and review it later. So, I understand that, but we have to play the game the best that we can legally.
“I’m not sure, but there were a lot of penalties today. I’ve never seen a game where so many flags were thrown. We do play a physical brand of football on defense, and we’re going to try to keep playing that way. But, like I’ve said, they’re erring on the side of caution. They’re going to throw flags first and then figure it out later.”
And as long as Commissioner Goodell is in power, that’s probably going to be the process for the game’s referees.