LAS VEGAS — The Pittsburgh Steelers had about as poor of a start to the 2023 season as possible, with a season-opening blowout at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers destroying all the momentum from what was perceived to be a strong offseason and strong preseason.
Slowly but surely, they’re digging out of the hole they dug.
The Steelers offense had its strongest game of the season, the defense continues to find big plays in key moments, and the team is now 2-1 after a 23-18 win over the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday Night Football.
The Steelers got their best game of the season from Kenny Pickett, who completed two touchdowns passes for the first time in his NFL career.
Pickett’s revival was the biggest turnaround from the team’s absurdly slow start. He was 31 of 46 for 232 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for a 68.4 passer rating in the season-opening drubbing by the 49ers. In the team’s Week 2 win over Cleveland, he was a barely better 15 of 30 for 222 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a 71.8 rating.
This one didn’t start out better, with the offense once again going three-and-out on each of its first two drives. On the third, Pickett unleashed a long bomb to Calvin Austin III for a 72-yard touchdown.
The rest of the way wasn’t perfect, but the end result was not only Pickett’s best of the season, but his career. He finished 16 of 28 for 235 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, for a career-best 108.5 passer rating.
He didn’t get much help from a Steelers rushing offense that continues to struggle. Najee Harris ran 19 times into a loaded Raiders boxes for just 65 yards. Jaylen Warren did no better, rushing 8 eight times for 29 yards.
The defense bent but never broke, and found ways to impact the game throughout. Though the Raiders finished with 362 total yards of offense — equalling the Steelers output — the Steelers defense was able to get its hands on the football and help win the game.
That was no more evidence than with the play of cornerback Levi Wallace, who had a long day attempting to cover Davante Adams. Adams had 13 catches for 172 yards, two touchdowns, and was a thorn in the Steelers’ side all evening.
But Wallace turned the tide with two interceptions, including the game-winner with 12 seconds to play. The Steelers also sacks Jimmy Garoppolo and harried him into a 72.5 passer rating, despite Adams’ explosive totals.
T.J. Watt sacked him twice and forced a bad decision that led to a Patrick Peterson interception. Keeanu Benton and Markus Golden also got in on the action. Even a questionable roughing the passer penalty against Minkah Fitzpatrick that led to the final Raiders touchdown couldn’t keep the Steelers down long.
The Steelers will look to continue their winning ways in Week 4, when they visit the Houston Texans. At 2-1, they’re now tied for first place in the AFC North.