OAKLAND -- Yes, a million times, yes. With as many apologies to Herm Edwards: You play to win the game.
But when is winning actually, gulp, losing?
Well, from one perspective, when you are in full rebuild mode and in need of the No. 1 draft pick, you lose by winning, so to speak.
Both the Raiders and Niners are 3-10 as are the Arizona Cardinals, though the Niners, due to a weaker strength of schedule, hold the tie-breaker advantage for an earlier pick.
Yes, that is Edwards’ booming voice coming with the reminder: You play, to win, the game.
The euphoria that came with a win in a long season far outweighed where the team will pick in the NFL draft come April.
Just ask linebacker Tahir Whitehead about the notion that Oakland lost by winning -- at your own peril.
“People don’t know what they’re talking about,” said Whitehead, who had an acrobatic interception near midfield on a tipped ball by cornerback Gareon Conley. “They need to shut up. Plain and simple. At the end of the day, we’re not going out here to lose football games. We work all week, you feel me?
“We put it all on the line and for anyone to say that, they don’t understand or I don’t think they have ever played sports and know what goes into this because that’s a slap in the face to say, ‘Yeah, you need to just lay down and just lose the rest of the way so we can get a good draft pick.’ That’s stupid. Stupid.”
Savoring victory was anything but stupid. For at least one afternoon. Against an ancient AFC rival. And to keep Roethlisberger winless in Oakland at 0-4. It is the lone AFC city in which he has not won a game.
Taking over at their own 25-yard line with 2 minutes, 55 seconds to play and down 21-17, the Raiders drove 75 yards, Derek Carr hitting tight end Derek Carrier for a 6-yard, game-winning touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal with 25 seconds to play.
“Man, this is my second-favorite win ever,” said Carr, who completed 25-of-34 passes for 322 yards and two TDs while getting sacked four times and extending his interception-less streak to 261 throws over 33 quarters in eight-plus games.
“If they were in our division, it would be first. This is definitely my second.”
Carr’s fave? Beating the Kansas City Chiefs on untimed downs last season in Oakland. Plus, this was Carr’s 16th career comeback win in the fourth quarter or overtime since his rookie season of 2014, which trails only the Lions’ Matthew Stafford for most such wins in that time frame.
As expected, the Oakland Coliseum erupted with the score, a sense of pride and accomplishment that was missing most of the season. But it was not without drama.
Because a pitch play to JuJu Smith-Schuster set the Steelers up at the Raiders’ 22-yard line for a potential game-tying field goal with five seconds to play. But Chris Boswell slipped and his 40-yard attempt never had a chance.
While they may have blown their shot at the No. 1 draft pick -- the Niners’ strength of schedule is .488 while the Cardinals’ is .515 and the Raiders’ is .569 -- the momentary elation was worth it in showing actual progress in a rebuilding season under Jon Gruden, who took off to acknowledge the Black Hole section of fans after the win.
“I saw some of my old friends growing up,” Gruden said. “I just wanted to thank them and it was an awesome scene today. I appreciate their support. They have been with us no matter what.”
Besides, with three first-round picks (they own Chicago’s and Dallas’), the Raiders already control the draft.
“Let’s not forget, Coach Gruden has a lot of capital to work with in the next few years,” said tight end Lee Smith, who caught a 3-yard touchdown pass. “We’ve got draft picks, we’ve got money, we’ve got a lot of things going in our favor. And if we can finish strong here and then transition and let him get a few new toys, it will be a lot of fun around here.”