The "Sunday Night Football" showdown between two historic rivals, the Steelers and the Raiders, lived up to the hype, delivering a back-and-forth battle down to the very end in which Pittsburgh topped Las Vegas 23-18. However, the final score and outcome could have been completely different had the Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels made a different decision on his team's final offensive possession.
With the Raiders down 23-15, trailing by eight points -- a one-possession deficit that could be overcome by a touchdown and a two-point conversion -- McDaniels decided it would be best for the Raiders to kick a 26-yard field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-four from the 8 with 2:22 remaining in the game. It wasn't fourth-and-goal. Las Vegas could have earned a fresh set of downs at the Pittsburgh 4. However, despite having all three of their timeouts and the two-minute warning -- four chances to stop the clock on defense -- the Raiders didn't get the football back, so they lost by five points.
"You have two choices there," McDaniels said postgame Sunday night. "You try to make it a five-point game where you have an opportunity to win it with a touchdown if you get the ball back. Or you try to go for it there, and if you happen to convert you have to make the two-point conversion, all the rest of it. So, those are the decisions you've got to make. I thought we did a decent job putting ourselves in third down there the next series with the defense to try to have a play to get off the field, and we just didn't handle that play very well."
Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett ran a rollout pass play toward the left sideline on third-and-two with 2:12 to play, and he connected with an open receiver, Allen Robinson, for the first down. It appeared as though the Raiders defensive backs were playing way too far off the line of scrimmage thanks to heavy blitz from their front seven.
McDaniels declined to say that having kicker Daniel Carlson go for the field goal in that situation is an indictment of his offense, for which he calls the plays.
"No, no," he said when asked if that was a vote of no confidence in the offense. His elaboration on his thought process made the explanation more confounding. "You're going to need another possession anyway; you know what I mean? So, it's not a lack of confidence. We went for it multiple times."
Yes, the Raiders converted one of their two fourth-down conversion attempts Sunday night, but his explanation of needing two possessions to win the game comes off a little flimsy. If Las Vegas had scored a touchdown and then an ensuing two-point conversion, they would have needed another possession to break that tie. They would have likely had the opportunity to do so in overtime. If the fourth-down conversion attempt had failed, they would have still needed another possession, just like they did after settling for a field goal.
Based on the way the game was flowing at that point, going for it would have made a lot of sense. The Raiders were down 23-7 with 11:32 left in the game, but their defense didn't allow any points in the fourth quarter. More importantly, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, McDaniels' former pupil with the New England Patriots, had previously come up clutch near the goal line with a one-yard touchdown toss to All-Pro receiver Davante Adams. He then completed a two-point conversion pass to rookie tight end Michael Mayer that cut the Steelers' lead to eight, 23-15. It's head-scratching as to why McDaniels didn't feel like it was the right call to replicate that sequence with the game on the line.