The Pittsburgh Steelers Week 16 win over the Las Vegas Raiders on Christmas Eve was a game that was full of emotion. Not only was it a late-season game in the bitter Pittsburgh cold between two teams fighting for their playoff lives, but it was also the game where Franco Harris’ No. 32 jersey was retired. The ceremony came just a few days after Harris unexpectedly passed away at the age of 72 on December 20. The Steelers honored Harris with the whole team wearing his No. 32 jersey while they walked into Acrisure Stadium, and they were also able to honor his legacy with a 13-10 win. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin talked about how the Steelers embraced the emotions of that game.
“We didn’t want to resist it, we wanted to embrace it. We knew it was coming. It was a mindset. I thought our guys did a really good job of soaking it up and embracing it, while at the same time being focused on the task at hand, which is making necessary plays to win the game and understanding our component of the celebration, which is to deliver victory,” Tomlin said on The Mike Tomlin Show, via the Steelers YouTube channel.
One of the key sentiments coming out of the game was it was a game where the Steelers grew up. With a young offense featuring a rookie quarterback in Kenny Pickett, a rookie receiver in George Pickens who caught the game-winning touchdown, and two second-year players in Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth who came up clutch on the team’s final drive. Tomlin talked about the maturity the team showed in finishing the game.
“I thought our guys showed maturity beyond their years in terms of dealing with that component of it and staying focused and finishing the game.”
The Steelers’ offense was lackluster for much of the game, not even entering the red zone until their final drive. But when it came to winning time, it was Pickett, Pickens, and the rest of the young guys on offense who made the necessary plays to win the game. And it goes without saying that they wouldn’t have that opportunity if it wasn’t for the defense standing tall and holding Las Vegas to 10 points. Defensive lineman Cameron Heyward had one of the best games of his storied career in Pittsburgh, while the secondary limited star receiver Davante Adams to just two catches for 15 yards. It was a true group effort to extend the Steelers’ playoff hopes and honor the legacy of one of the greatest players in franchise history.
For a plethora of reasons, it was a must-win game for the Steelers. While it wasn’t the prettiest of wins, it was still a win. As Tomlin said, the team understood the component of the celebration. They just had to win.
Moving forward, the win gives them momentum heading into their Sunday night contest with the Baltimore Ravens. At 7-8, the Steelers need to win out and need some help to make the playoffs, but winning last Saturday kept them alive. Let’s see whether they can build off that performance and potentially try to sneak into the postseason in the final two weeks of the year.