Dennis Allen’s smile said it all.
Allen, the rookie head coach of the Raiders, has mostly provided a stoic expression on the Oakland sideline, his face an emotionless mask under his Raiders visor.
Of course, until Sunday afternoon at O.co Coliseum, he had little to smile about, starting his first season as an NFL head coach with consecutive losses to the Chargers and Dolphins.
But Sunday, Allen’s Raiders climbed out from a 24-14 hole in the third quarter to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 34-31 on Sebastian Janikowski’s 43-yard field goal with no time remaining.
As Janikowski’s kick sailed through the uprights, Allen held his arms aloft, smiled broadly and then pumped his fist Tiger Woods-style to celebrate Oakland’s first victory of 2012 a day after his own 40th birthday.
It was an emotional win for the Raiders, who watched wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey get knocked out by a crushing hit in the fourth quarter. It also was a turnaround performance after a blowout loss in Miami last week.
After Heyward-Bey left the game Sunday, the Raiders scored the final 13 points of the game.
Four plays after Heyward-Bay was carted off the field – giving a thumbs-up sign to the Raiders’ fans -- Carson Palmer connected with Denarius Moore to cut the Steelers’ lead to 31-28.
The Raiders then capitalized on a fumble by the Steelers’ Antonio Brown – recovered by Phillip Wheeler – to set up Janikowski’s tying 32-yard field goal with 6:34 left in the game.
After forcing the Steelers to punt on their next possession, the Raiders drove from their own 25 to the Pittsburgh 26 in eight plays to set up Janikowski’s winning kick. Carson Palmer connected with Brandon Myers on a big third-and-10 early in the drive, and hooked up for 17 yards with Derek Hagan to get Janikowski into position.
For the Raiders, it marked the first time this season under Allen and new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp that the offense came to life.
Running back Darren McFadden, who averaged just 2.1 yards per carry over the first two games, rushed for 113 yards on 18 carries, including a 64-yard TD run in the first quarter.
Palmer, meanwhile threw for 209 yards and three TDs by completing 24-of-34 throws, spreading the ball around to nine receivers.
Going into Sunday’s game, the Steelers offense was billed as one-dimensional, and it stayed that way in Oakland. Though Pittsburgh rushed for just 54 yards, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger picked apart the Raiders defense, completing 36-of-49 passes for 384 yards and four touchdowns.
Now, with their first win collected, the Raiders will try to make it two in a row next Sunday at Denver against Peyton Manning and the Broncos, who lost to the Houston Texans 31-25 Sunday.