OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — With an efficient offense led by Carson Palmer, an opportunistic defense that stepped up in the final minutes and a clutch kick by Sebastian Janikowski, the Oakland Raiders turned a somber mood into a celebratory one.
Janikowski kicked a 43-yard field goal on the last play as the Raiders scored the final 13 points after wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was knocked out and hospitalized by a scary hit to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 34-31 on Sunday.
"You put a lot of hard work, blood sweat and tears into trying to build a championship team, and one of your guys goes down, especially in a situation like that, it's hard to keep your focus," coach Dennis Allen said. "But I thought our guys did an outstanding job in getting their focus back, coming back and executing, and winning a game in the fourth quarter."
There was a pall over the stadium early in the fourth quarter when Heyward-Bey was knocked unconscious by a helmet-to-helmet hit in the end zone by Steelers safety Ryan Mundy that was not called a penalty by the replacement officials. Heyward-Bey was taken to the hospital with a concussion and neck injury. But Allen said he was able to move his extremities, which was a welcome sign for the Raiders (1-2).
The team said he was in stable condition and will stay in the hospital overnight for observation.
Palmer then threw his third touchdown pass and Janikowski kicked two field goals to beat the Steelers (1-2) and get the Raiders on track after two losses to open the season.
"Any time they take one of your brothers out, you have to retaliate and get them back," safety Michael Huff said. "Obviously not in an illegal way or anything like that. We wanted to go out and get the win for him because he couldn't finish it."
The Raiders took over with the game tied at their 25 with 1:42 remaining. Palmer got the drive going with a 24-yard pass to Brandon Myers on third-and-10 and then hit Derek Hagan on a 17-yard pass down to the Pittsburgh 26 with 27 seconds left.
Oakland then ran down the clock to set up Janikowski's winning kick that send the crowd into delirium less than an hour after silence overtook the stadium when Heyward-Bey was injured.
Mundy's helmet hit Heyward-Bey in the facemask on an incomplete pass in the end zone. Heyward-Bey's neck jerked violently and his head also crashed into the ground. Players from both teams kneeled in prayer as Heyward-Bey was attended to for about 10 minutes.
"We don't play like that," Mundy said. "We don't try to injury people or anything like that. We understand this is people's livelihood. We take that serious."
He managed to raise his right hand while being taken off the field on a cart to go to the hospital with a neck injury.
Four plays later, Palmer eluded pressure and found Denarius Moore on a 6-yard touchdown pass that brought Oakland within 31-28 early in the fourth quarter.
"For us seeing him give the thumbs up, knowing he was all right gave us more momentum," Hagan said. "That really uplifted us and we came out on top."
Raiders cornerback Pat Lee then forced a fumble downfield by Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown that Philip Wheeler recovered at the Oakland 36. Palmer then drove the Raiders down the field and they tied the game on a 32-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski with 6:30 to play.
With the Steelers missing Pro Bowl defensive stalwarts Troy Polamalu (calf) and James Harrison (knee), the Raiders were able to move the ball effectively most of the game.
Darren McFadden ran for 113 yards, including a 64-yard TD burst in the first quarter that surpassed his rushing total from the first two games of the season combined.
Palmer overcame an interception on the first play of the game to go 24 for 34 for 209 yards and three touchdowns, including a 3-yarder to Heyward-Bey late in the first half.
"They outplayed us defensively," Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark said. "Their defense made the stops when they needed to, and we didn't. It wasn't from a lack of trying. Maybe it was trying too hard."
Roethlisberger was even better, throwing two TD passes to Heath Miller in the first quarter, as well as third-quarter scores to Mike Wallace and Brown. Roethlisberger finished 36 for 49 for 384 yards as Oakland failed to generate any sustained pass rush.
But he failed to convert a third-and-9 under pressure following the two-minute warning to give Oakland the chance at the winning score.
Each team converted a turnover into a touchdown in the opening half with the Steelers taking a 17-14 lead at the break after Roethlisberger 64 yards in the final 1:54 without a timeout to set up Shaun Suisham's 33-yard field goal on the final play.
The half started well for the Steelers as well when Palmer was intercepted by Ryan Clark on the first play from scrimmage after Moore slipped on the infield dirt while making his cut.
Roethlisberger converted one fourth down before throwing his first of two 4-yard TD passes to Miller in the opening quarter. In between those scores, McFadden scored on the longest run against the Steelers since 2006.
Oakland tied the game again late in the half after Joselio Hanson recovered a fumble by Jonathan Dwyer at the Pittsburgh 30. The Raiders then drew Ziggy Hood offside with a rapid shift on fourth down and Palmer found Heyward-Bey on the next play.
NOTES: Myers left the game with a concussion on the final drive. ... Hall of Famer Marcus Allen lit the torch honoring late owner Al Davis in a sign that his long-running feud with the organization has ended. ... Miller has four TD catches in three games.
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