The Pittsburgh Steelers sure are getting into the spirit of Halloween.
First they hosted the Baltimore Ravens, a team named for a foreboding bird in American literature.
The Steelers tricked the Ravens with the wildcat, and treated their fans to a win at Heinz Field.
On Sunday, the Steelers visit the Oakland Raiders. What better setting than the Black Hole for a game played four days before Halloween?
The Steelers haven’t won at Oakland since 1995. Somehow a black cat must have crossed their path on their last two flights out there.
Losses to lowly Raiders teams have come back to haunt the Steelers in their last three non-playoff seasons.
At Oakland last season, the Raiders came back from 10 points down late in the third quarter and won in the final seconds on Sebastian Janikowski’s 43-yard field goal. The Steelers fell to 1-2 with that loss but recovered to win five of their next six and get to 6-3. Then Ben Roethlisberger was injured and the Steelers lost five of their last seven and fell short of the playoffs. A win over the 4-12 Raiders might have come in handy in the jockeying for a playoff spot.
The Steelers didn’t have nearly as much margin for error when they hosted the Raiders in 2009. They already had lost three straight to fall to 6-5 when Bruce Gradkowski, now a Steeler, threw a touchdown pass in the final seconds to lead the Raiders to a 27-24 win. A shell-shocked Steelers team lost at Cleveland four days later before going on a too-little, too-late three-game winning streak to finish the season 9-7. The Raiders finished 5-11.
But here’s where the tale gets downright spooky. Here’s what ought to scare the bejesus out of the Steelers.
Gather ’round for this ghost story.
The Steelers’ game at Oakland Sunday is two days shy of the seventh anniversary of their loss there in 2006. The Steelers’ record going into that game was 2-4, just like it is now.
Roethlisberger threw four interceptions in that game. Two were returned for touchdowns as the Raiders, who went 2-14 that year, won 20-13. Did the score – take out the hyphen and it’s 2013 –foreshadow another Steelers visit to this house of horrors almost exactly seven years later?
The Steelers’ loss to Oakland in 2006 was the second of three straight. They started the season 2-6 and finished out of the playoffs at 8-8.
This year, the Steelers have arrived at 2-4 from a different direction. With two straight wins they have a little momentum, but a loss would doom their playoff hopes just like it did in 2006. They’ve never beaten Tom Brady at Gillette Stadium, which is where they play next week. To put themselves in that situation with a 2-5 record would be about as prudent as checking into the Bates Motel.
Even if the Steelers win in Oakland, their Halloween Hell Tour won’t be over. They’ll travel to New England, the region that inspired such macabre authors as H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, and encounter that most ghoulish of NFL characters, Bill Belichick.
But that’s looking ahead, which would be foolish for the Steelers before they take care of business against the Raiders. It wouldn’t exactly be an upset if the Raiders beat the Steelers. They’re also 2-4 and their mobile quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, could be a problem for a Steelers defense that’s not as dynamic as it once was. The Steelers are last in the NFL with two takeaways and ahead of only the 1-6 New York Giants with eight sacks.
The Raiders also have the advantage of a bye last week while the Steelers fly to the West Coast, where they haven’t won since 2005.
The Steelers have their work cut out for them. A good starting point would be for Roethlisberger to not throw four interceptions. That’s not asking too much. He threw four picks in a game just one other time, in a 21-14 home loss to the Giants in 2008.
On Oct. 26, 2008 to be exact.
Yup, it was the Steelers’ last game before Halloween that year, too.
The Steelers need an exorcist.