OAKLAND -- The potential for conflict was evident before kickoff, with the Raiders winless and thousands of Steelers fans waving Terrible Towels in O.co Coliseum.
So when the first pass from the hands of Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer was intercepted, stadium security had reason to go on high alert. The leader of perhaps the most disappointing team in the NFL had cracked open the door to bedlam.
Palmer simply jogged to the sideline, recovered and came back to do what a veteran leader is paid to do.
When the game mattered most, in the second half, he seized it.
With his offense being ridiculed among its fans and around the league, he responded.
Oakland's 34-31 comeback victory over Pittsburgh was an old-fashioned shootout, precisely the kind of game these much-maligned Raiders had shown no indication of finding, much less winning.
"We expect to average over 30 points a game," fullback Marcel Reece said with a straight face.
"We played through Carson's mind," said tight end Richard Gordon, who in the third quarter caught a 1-yard touchdown pass, the first of his NFL career, from Palmer.
Though Palmer's numbers were good (24 of 34, 209 yards, three touchdowns, one interception), his command of the offense was superb.
Masterfully utilizing the no-huddle tactic, Palmer directed the Raiders to scores on their final five possessions -- three touchdowns and two field goals,
"He ran the no-huddle offense, got us into the right plays, and we were productive on offense," coach Dennis Allen said. "I was extremely proud and pleased with the way Carson played."
A Raiders offense that couldn't solve an ordinary San Diego team in the opener and did even less against sub-mediocre Miami last week suddenly found a rhythm against the rugged Steelers.
"I knew this offense would get it going," veteran defensive tackle Richard Seymour said. "They exploded onto the scene today."
Actually, Pittsburgh had more total yardage (433 to 321) and a huge margin in time-of-possession (36:15 to 23:45).
But Oakland's offense was considerably more efficient Sunday and downright explosive when compared to the first two games of the season, when there was no running game and the unit managed only two meaningful TDs.
Putting up 34 points on the Steelers, though, makes a statement -- even if this particular Pittsburgh defense, without star safety Troy Polamalu and ferocious linebacker James Harrison, lacks exceptional personnel.
Palmer worked them for short passes, throwing to nine different receivers. No pass gained more than 18 yards. Palmer's only mistake came on a throw to wideout Denarius Moore, who slipped before the ball sailed over him and into the hands of Steelers safety Ryan Clark.
The no-huddle plan, devised in concert with embattled offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, was designed to exploit Pittsburgh's big linemen, particularly massive nose tackle Casey Hampton.
"Their front seven is 300-plus pounds across the board," Palmer exaggerated (slightly), "and when you get that no-huddle, you can tire guys out, and we knew that would be an advantage for us."
Oakland's offense didn't do much early; after the interception on the first play, three of its next four drives ended in punts. With the Raiders trailing 31-21, Palmer went to work.
He found Moore for a 6-yard touchdown, closing it to 31-28, with 12:13 left. Oakland's next possession ended with Janikowski booting a 32-yard field goal to tie it.
To complete the statement, though, taking this from moral victory to actual triumph, Palmer needed one more drive. The Raiders took over at their 25-yard line with 1:43 left, and after consecutive misfires, Palmer completed four in a row, good for 49 yards, essentially setting up Janikowski's winning kick.
"We kind of felt coming in that we were already written off, and we know we're a good team," Palmer said. "We just had some unfortunate things happen the first two weeks, and we didn't handle business and play well enough.
"We knew we could win this game. We knew we were playing against a good opponent, but we knew we were the only ones that really believed we could win."
Well, of course. The first two weeks were out there, on video, for the world to see. There was nothing at all to suggest this was coming.
"We're just scratching the surface," Reece said. "We expect to do things like this. Today ... just scratching the surface."
They should hope so, as should their fans, finally celebrating. A Raiders win surely made the evening safer for the Steelers fans in the house.
For that, they can thank Palmer. With his team under siege, he quieted the noise and pulled together a team on the edge.