OAKLAND Outside, the doubts were already beginning to swirl. And stinging from two underwhelming losses, with the Pittsburgh Steelers looming, the Raiders apparently weren't tuning them out.
"We kind of felt coming in like we were already written off," quarterback Carson Palmer said. "We knew we could win this game. We knew we were playing against a good opponent, but we knew that we were the only ones that really believed we could win."
That belief was validated Sunday when Sebastian Janikowski's 43-yard field goal sailed through the uprights as time expired, giving the Raiders a 34-31 win over the Steelers in a game they didn't lead until the score went final.
For the Raiders, the missing elements from the first two weeks were all there.
Darren McFadden finally rolled off a big touchdown run.
Palmer calmly and confidently guided the Raiders to points on all four of their second-half drives.
And the Raiders' defense, its hands full all afternoon with Ben Roethlisberger's quick-strike passing, made two fourth-quarter stands to allow the offense to complete the comeback.
"It tells you that we've got some mental toughness and fortitude to push through," said Raiders head coach Dennis Allen, who earned his first NFL win. "It didn't always look pretty, but it doesn't have to."
After the Raiders' defense forced a fumble that set up a game-tying field goal by Janikowski with 6:30 to play, it came down to who could make a stand in a 31-31 game.
With 3:51 left, the Steelers went for it on fourth and one from their own 29 and punched ahead for six yards. But on the next play, Roethlisberger, well-protected nearly all game while completing 36 of 49 passes for 384 yards and four touchdowns, was dragged down by Richard Seymour for a five-yard loss, and the Raiders forced a punt.
Palmer, who matched his high with the Raiders with three touchdown passes, took over at his own 25 and orchestrated a nine-play, 49-yard drive to the Steelers' 26 keyed by a 15-yard completion to tight end Brandon Myers on third and 10.
Palmer's dive to the left hash gave Janikowski enough room so that he wasn't kicking off the dirt of the baseball infield at O.co Coliseum, and Janikowski made his first game-winning field goal in regulation since Nov. 26, 2009.
"In the corners' minds, there's always the possibility of being that guy that gets beat for the touchdown," Palmer said of the final drive. "So we took advantage of some of the underneath routes, and we knew if we could just get (Janikowski) past the 30-yard line, or around the 30-yard line, he's pretty consistent from hitting there."
For much of the game, the Raiders implemented a no-huddle offense that players credited with helping to tire out the Steelers' defense late and counteract some of their blitzes. After converting none of their four third-down chances in the first half, the Raiders made good on 7 of 8 after halftime.
"Just to keep their defense off rhythm," Allen said. "Not let them get into the flow of the game and try to wear them down a little bit, and I think we were able to do that."
And the zone-blocking running attack showed signs of life, beginning with McFadden's first touch. McFadden burst up the middle for a 64-yard touchdown run that nearly equaled the amount of rushing yards (68) the Raiders had in their first two games. He finished with 113 yards on 18 carries, the 10th 100-yard rushing game of his career.
"You're going to get one yard here and two yards there. We just have to keep hitting it, and we stuck with it," McFadden said. "And the big runs will break."
The offense was hardly on the field in the first half, as the Steelers ran 43 plays to Oakland's 19 and went into halftime leading 17-14.
Roethlisberger then led two third-quarter touchdown drives to give the Steelers (1-2) a 10-point lead entering the fourth.
But the Raiders' defense, which hadn't forced a turnover in its first two games, clamped down when it mattered most. Cornerback Pat Lee stripped wide receiver Antonio Brown, and linebacker Philip Wheeler recovered the fumble to set up the game-tying field goal, and Roethlisberger was dragged down by rookie linebacker Miles Burris on his final pass, a third-and-nine attempt that fell incomplete.
"You don't want to wait three, four weeks to get your first victory, because it messes with the morale of the team," defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said. "The type of team Pittsburgh's got, you know the type of players they've got, and for us to dig ourselves a hole and then come back, that was big."