Could've. Would've. Should've. These words define those who fall short of their goals. Such is the case of this series, which will examine the ebbs and flows of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2018 season and how specific individual plays may have shaped the year.
Do you remember the infamous x-ray machine incident?
That could’ve been a major turning point in the Steelers 2018 season. Pittsburgh has never had luck playing in Oakland, but were attempting to change their fortunes not only in that city, but overall, as they had dropped two games straight, falling to 7-4-1 on the season and placing their playoff lives in danger.
Oakland entered the game with a 2-10 record and a nothing to lose attitude. Unfortunately, the Steelers underestimated their opponent, but that calculation came later in the game rather than from the onset.
Despite conceding the game’s first points to the Raiders, the Steelers went into the locker room at halftime, up 14-10.
It’s when they returned to the field to start the third quarter that things took a turn. The Steelers received the ball first, as Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson’s kickoff sailed for a touchback. Rather than seeing #7 jog out to the field, backup quarterback Joshua Dobbs ran out to the huddle instead.
Apparently, Ben Roethlisberger was jarred by a hit from the final drive in the first half and was seen on the sideline without his helmet. Now the Steelers starting quarterback, as well as their starting running back (James Conner) were sidelined. (Conner had been hurt prior to this game and was ruled out before kickoff.)
If fans ever wondered about what if scenarios, this was a fantasy idea creeping into reality. Dobbs, the promising second-year quarterback, had won his job with an intense camp battle that saw him stay on the roster as former backup Landry Jones was released. (Third quarterback and rookie Mason Rudolph was inactive for this game.)
It was now time to see Dobbs shine. The Steelers staff, for whatever reason at the time, did not feel comfortable with sending Big Ben back out there. They also must’ve felt confident in Dobbs’ ability to lead the team, as well as preserve their own 14-10 lead.
However, Dobbs would not be able to get the job done on this day.
After starting the game’s first four possessions with a punt, touchdown, a missed field goal, and another touchdown, the Steelers offense would stutter with Dobbs under center.
His first drive lasted five plays for 19 yards before Pittsburgh punted. The next drive, which also lasted five plays, went for 21 yards. The Steelers would get aggressive with just under seven minutes left, calling for a short pass to Vance McDonald on 4th and 1: the play would result in no gain and the Raiders got the ball back on their own 42.
The Raiders threatened, driving to the Steelers 22 before QB Derek Carr fumbled and the ball was recovered by Steelers CB Mike Hilton. With Pittsburgh still in the lead, the coaching staff stuck with Dobbs under center; Roethlisberger mysteriously still benched.
Dobbs would scramble for ten yards, throw an incomplete pass, and then be intercepted while targeting Antonio Brown, setting up the final fourth quarter showdown. The Raiders would go three-and-out, the Steelers would go three-and-out, and then game took a miserable turn as Oakland chewed up half of the quarter with a 14-play touchdown drive.
With the Steelers last four Dobbs-led drives ending on a punt, downs, interception and another three-and-out punt, the team finally turned to desperation with a little over five minutes remaining. Roethlisberger, injured or not, re-entered the field and immediately drove the Steelers 70 yards in 2:25 of game time to retake the lead, 21-17.
However, the Raiders would score on a 4th-and-6 with 25 seconds left to go up by three. The Steelers still had a shot, but a Chris Boswell field goal attempt was botched and the game ended with final score of 24-21 in favor of the Raiders.
The postgame aftermath is what really makes this a turning point as head coach Mike Tomlin made mention of “old” x-ray equipment in reference to being unable to properly diagnose if Ben Roethlisberger had cracked ribs or a similar injury. Taking precaution with his franchise quarterback, Tomlin decided to sit Ben (as to not risk further injury) and play his backup, content with having a lead over a two-win team.
In the end the move backfired and we’ll never know if the decision was the proper one, all because of one hit and some inferior medical equipment.