From the Press Room: Steelers vs. Raiders

Honoring Franco: It was a night to honor Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris, and the Steelers did that with their actions on and off the field.

The players, coaches and staff arrived at, and left, Acrisure Stadium, sporting No. 32 Harris jerseys on the night his No. 32 was retired, just days after he passed away.

Coach Mike Tomlin even wore his to his postgame press conference to pay tribute to Harris, a man he has great admiration for.

"I'm just so thankful of the effort of the guys," said Tomlin. "We had a chance to be a part of Steelers history tonight and, man, we don't take that lightly. We're just so appreciative of the ground that's been laid by those that have come before us, the men like this man's jersey that I'm wearing right here.

"We get to enjoy the fruit of their labor daily just in terms of the standard of the expectation here in Pittsburgh, the relationship that we have with our fan base.

"We just want to honor him, his teammates, and all the men that have come before us that's made the black and gold what it is. So, we're just thankful to get the victory."

Tomlin admitted there were a lot of emotions throughout the week after Harris passed away on Wednesday, but said they had to make sure they remained focused on the task at hand.

"We're professionals," said Tomlin. "Football is our game. Our business is winning. We're going to be in an emotionally charged environment from time to time, ceremonially or just weight of the game. I just think that's part of professional football.

"We got to find ways to compartmentalize that and do what's required, which is play winning football. Make no mistake about it, it was a significant game, but it's probably just a significant game because so many of our guys are young and they stood up tonight, and it was a growth outing probably more than anything."

The Steelers pulled out a 13-10 win, going down to the wire when some of those young guys stepped up big. Kenny Pickett hit George Pickens for a 14-yard touchdown pass with just 46 seconds left to play in the game. Cameron Sutton sealed the deal when he intercepted Derek Carr, sending the crowd home happy on Christmas Eve.

It wasn't a perfect night, but it was a night they did what they had to in order to get the job done.

"I think it was a grow-up evening for us tonight," said Tomlin. "Obviously, this was not an easy game, but we showed resolve, we complemented one another, we stood up and didn't blink, even when it got thick.

"We continued to punt the ball and support our defense who was playing well. They continued to deliver until we caught fire and finished some drives.

"Don't get me wrong, it wasn't lack of moving the ball. We just didn't finish drives. We missed a couple field goals, threw an interception. You know, just got to be better in those areas, and we'll keep working.

"But as a collective, particularly some of the young offensive skill guys, I thought it was a grow-up night. (Kenny Pickett) and (George Pickens) and (Najee Harris) and (Pat Freiermuth) and (Diontae Johnson), all of them. They showed poise and resolve and made the necessary plays, and so we move forward.

"We move forward with a really good Christmas.

"I think all the guys made plays. They made the plays when called upon. I think the end the game kind of reflected that. Muth made a big play. Naj made a big play jumping somebody. GP made a play in the end zone. We just got a bunch of young guys that's got some talent. They're getting better. They are good enough to win as that happens.

"We just better keep rolling our sleeves up and keeping our head down, our mouth shut and working. That's this game. We got a battle waiting on us."

Game-winning drive: The final drive beat the clock and won the game but, as it turned out, lacked any type of dramatic, inspirational message that might resonate beyond Steelers 13, Raiders 10.

"Really, nothing," wide receiver George Pickens reported regarding what quarterback Kenny Pickett had to say in the huddle when the Steelers took over with 2:55 left in regulation and needing a touchdown to erase a 10-6 deficit. "He said the play call.

"It wasn't like a movie story."

The 10-play, 76-yard march in 2:09 for what became the game-winning touchdown, a 14-yard strike from Pickett to Pickens with 46 seconds remaining on the fourth quarter clock, was at least worth of a highlight reel.

And to Pickett that was more than enough.

"There's no rah-rah speech that's gonna put the ball in the end zone," Pickett maintained. "It's very simple, everyone's gotta lock in, do their job. I'm gonna call the plays, we're gonna get it relayed in. I told them they're gonna execute, I'll execute and we're gonna win the game, that's pretty much it.

"And then when you're in the locker room after and your guys are hugging after a win, that's the best feeling in the world. I had no doubt we were gonna get it done."

The significance of getting it done on a night the Steelers celebrated the 50th anniversary of "The Immaculate Reception," honored the passing of franchise icon Franco Harris and retired Harris' No. 32 wasn't lost on the rookie from Pitt.

"You try to keep your emotion together," Pickett said from the postgame podium, wearing the Harris 32 replica jersey players and head coach Mike Tomlin had worn in a tribute to Harris upon reporting for work at Acrisure Stadium late Saturday afternoon. "You gotta stay even keel throughout it but you know the kind of magnitude of the game with all the outside reasons, Franco. We wanted to go out there and get the win for him. Everyone kind of kept it together and after the game, obviously, an incredibly special moment in the locker room.

"Safe to say I'm gonna keep this jersey, probably give it to my parents, have it hanging up. It was a really special night."

Pickett completed 26 of 39 passes for 244 yards, with one touchdown and one interception in his first start since being knocked out of the game and into the concussion protocol early in what became a 16-14 loss to Baltimore on Dec. 11.

He went 7-for-9 passing for 75 yards and also converted a fourth-and-1 sneak for 1 yard just before hitting Pickens in the end zone on the winning march.

Given the circumstances the finish was as storybook as it needed to be, even without a rah-rah speech.

"I feel like you can't make it up, really," Pickett acknowledged. "How the game went, the kind of conditions it was, how we won, it was incredibly special.

"I don't think you could write it any better. "

Tip of the cap: It wasn't something that was flat out talked about in the locker room before the game, but there was one thing on every player's mind on Saturday night when they played the Las Vegas Raiders at Acrisure Stadium.

They wanted to win the game to honor Franco Harris' memory.

Coach Mike Tomlin didn't tell the team to go out and win for Harris, because as defensive tackle Cameron Heyward said, 'Coach T, he doesn't like to get into dedicating a game to a certain person because it can go one or two ways.'

But, from the get-go when the players arrived, until they left, there was no doubt winning for Harris was the plan.

Heyward kicked it off publicly when he took the field during pregame introductions carrying a huge No. 32 flag.

"I think for us it was just a tip of a cap to not only just a Steelers legend, but a great man, a person in this the community who you could always count on, a guy that even when he retired, he still wanted to be your teammate," said Heyward. "I can say from my time being here, Franco was welcoming me with open arms. It was -- with everything building up to this and getting the chance to talk to Franco, I think there are so many joyous moments we've had with him, and it hurt so many in this community to lose a guy like that.

"But you knew he lived a full life, and you knew he was loved by so many people. There are so many outstanding men that love him, Mean Joe (Greene), Mel Blount, countless others, Terry Bradshaw. They talk to Mike T, myself, Najee Harris. Decades and decades go on, but we still cared for a man that brought so much to us.

"To just say that we loved him, we'll continue to love him, and we appreciate all that's done for us."

Heyward played like a man on a mission, finishing with two sacks, seven tackles, three of them for a loss, and a pass batted down at the line of scrimmage. 

Heyward joked it was because he got a nap, coming into the game well-rested.

"Got a little nap in the middle of the day," said Heyward. "Kids weren't jumping too much on me. Got to wrap some presents when I get home.

"I think for me it was just we're still in the hunt. We just got to take it one game at a time. But I like to think we just keep getting better and better as the weeks go on."

Related Content