Shouldering major expectations since entering the league as a first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers this April, running back Najee Harris has done his best to meet and exceed those expectations throughout his rookie season. Through those efforts, he set himself up to break a record on Monday night that had stood since 1972: Franco Harris’ rookie rushing yardage record of 1,055 yards.
With the opportunity in front of a home crowd and on the night of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s final start at home, Harris made sure to come through, breaking that record and finishing the game with 1,172 yards this season. It is a total that places him fourth in the NFL through 17 of 18 weeks of the regular season, and comes as Pittsburgh has trusted him with the second-most carries of any back in the NFL.
The rookie’s effort has guided him to that total and to a record that has stood for almost 50 years. But after the game, Harris declined to absorb all the credit for his season, instead passing it around to all of his teammates on the offensive side of the ball.
“It’s a pretty old record, so it’s always an honor, but me to go up here and say I personally did it all by myself, I think that’s kind of too selfish in a way,” Harris said in a postgame press conference shared by the team. “So I really appreciate what the line did, and the receivers and Ben, they all played a part to make me ultimately get that record. So I think I appreciate them more than anything. And Franco of course was a great Steeler, great former player, great person, so shoutout to him, too.”
Harris has had weeks of highlights intermixed with weeks where the offense has failed to move it as proficiently, but he saved one of his best games of the year for Monday Night Football against the Cleveland Browns in Week 17.
Harris demolished his previous career-best (in the NFL) with 188 yards on the ground, on a season-high 28 carries against the Browns, and finished the game off with a 37-yard touchdown run (his longest carry of the season). His 6.7 yards per carry average was also far and away a career-best for his rookie year.
Helping set the tone were his blockers, who had one of their best games as a unit this year, and helped drive the ground game all night against one of the better front sevens in the NFL, in the Browns’ group. And though they were limited on Monday, Harris also made sure to credit the passing game and Roethlisberger, whose efforts have drawn focus away from the line and given him room to work with in past games this year.
Harris’ record shared the importance Monday night with Roethlisberger, who played in a game anticipated by all to be his final one at Heinz Field. Moving forward, it will stand as the new benchmark for any Steeler rookie rushers to beat in the decades to come, and will only get bigger as Harris and the Steelers play for their playoff hopes next Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 18.