Steelers honor Franco Harris by rallying past Raiders

PITTSBURGH — With all due respect, Mike Tomlin wasn’t ready to go out there.

Yes, the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers understands the symmetry between Saturday night’s 13-10 win over the Las Vegas Raiders and a playoff victory over the same franchise 50 years ago that ended with the Steelers intercepting Franco Harris’ deflected pass and running back, which in NFL lore is universally known as “The Immaculate Reception”.

Like that game five decades and a day earlier, a rookie scored the winning touchdown, this time on a 14-yard dart from Kenny Pickett to wide receiver George Pickens with 46 seconds remaining.

Yet the similarities end there. Harris’s play during the league’s 100th anniversary season in 2020 was considered one of the most famous in NFL history and helped launch a dynasty.

That was not what happened at the frigid Acresure Stadium on Christmas Eve of 2022.

“I’m not going to try to keep it in that neighborhood,” Tomlin said with a laugh. “Not even in that city.”

Still, Tomlin can appreciate that Pickett, Pickens and the rest of Pittsburgh’s still incredibly young offense have a “small place in Steelers lore” by putting together an impressive late drive that earned Pittsburgh’s slim . kept playoff hopes alive, as well as a tribute to Harris. ,

The Hall of Fame inductee died Wednesday, two days before the golden anniversary of his defining game and three days before the franchise retired his No. 32. His remarkable life.

The current Steelers – all of whom were born after Harris retired in 1984 – did their best to pay tribute to him. Tight end Pat Freermuth, a Penn State graduate like Harris, suggested to Tomlin during the week that the entire team appear on Saturday night wearing replicas of Harris’ jerseys.

Defensive end and co-captain Cam Hayward ran onto the field waving a giant flag with Harris’s number on it. Pickett called out a dummy “Franco! Franco” during his cadence before going down for the first time.

During halftime, Harris’s widow, Dana Dokmanovich, and their son, Doc, joined team president Art Rooney II in a tearful ceremony, with Dokmanovich leaning over for support of Rooney when he remembered her late husband’s memory. Jersey gifted.

“We dedicated it to Franco,” said Pickett. “It felt like he was with us tonight.”

Puckett completed 26 of 39 passes for 244 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Freiermuth caught seven passes for 66 yards and Najee Harris had 95 total yards as the Steelers (7-8) won for the fifth time in seven games.

“We’re still in the hunt,” Hayward said. “I think we are getting better and better as the weeks go by.”

Derek Carr threw for 174 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions, the last a floater down the middle of the field that was picked up by Cam Sutton with 29 seconds left. Pittsburgh rookie Connor Hayward ran for the first time to help the Steelers run out the clock.

The Raiders (6-9), after a dramatic last-play win over New England last week, returned to their form this season, losing their eighth one-score game of the year. They can be thrown out of the playoffs by the end of the week.

“We’ve got a lot [of games] And then to lose in that fashion when you have one shot to win, you feel like you’re close, but close doesn’t really count in this league,” said Las Vegas head coach Josh McDaniel. he said.” I obviously have to do a better job to try and close the gap.”

The Raiders found themselves on the right side for the first 59-plus minutes of the second coldest home game in Steelers history.

Carr got off to a crisp start in 8-degree (minus-13 Celsius) weather – the coldest home game for the Steelers since 1989 – and capped off a 14-play, 71-yard opening drive with a 14-yard touchdown strike to Hunter. signed off. Renfrew.

Yet Las Vegas let the Steelers roam, and Pickett — whose name was announced by Harris when Pittsburgh took him with the 20th overall pick in the 2022 draft — became the first signing of what the Steelers hope will be a decorated career. .

“I can’t say enough about it [our young offensive players], all of them,” Tomlin said. “He showed poise and resolve and made the necessary plays. We go on with a really nice Christmas.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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