Lolley's 10 Thoughts: Raiders

The Las Vegas Raiders put together a 14-play, 72-yard drive on their opening possession of the game, scoring a touchdown on a 14-yard pass from Derek Carr to Hunter Renfrow.

After that, they had just one more possession in the entire game on Christmas Eve on which they gained more than 20 yards.

Mike Tomlin spoke of his team playing "dominant" defense in training camp.

The Steelers played dominant defense in their 13-10 win over the Raiders here at Acrisure Stadium Saturday night in a Christmas Eve meeting that commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception.

How good was the Steelers defense in this game?

Consider that wide receiver Davante Adams, who entered with 86 receptions for over 1,200 yards and an NFL-best 12 touchdown catches, finished this game with two receptions for 15 yards on nine targets.

And running back Josh Jacobs, who entered leading the NFL with 1,495 rushing yards, managed just 44 yards on 15 carries, a 2.9 yards per attempt average that was well below the 5.1 yards he was averaging per carry coming into this game.

What changed for the Steelers after that opening possession?

"We settled in on the run game, got after the quarterback, covered well and just played good team defense," said linebacker Robert Spillane, who recorded a team-high 12 tackles.

"Jacobs is up for the rushing title, one of the best backs in the game. It takes a team to take him down. I think we gang-tackled well. We got around the ball."

And they got around Adams.

The Steelers didn't double-team Adams on every down, but they most certainly did on third downs, forcing quarterback Derek Carr to go elsewhere.

Oftentimes on third downs, the Steelers matched James Pierre on Adams, using a safety to help on him, as well. But other times, he was simply one-on-one with a corner. And the corners held up.

"On third down, we had a double on him," said safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. "Other than that, they had him one-on-one."

After that opening drive, the Raiders gained just 129 yards on their final 39 offensive snaps, an average of 3.3 yards per play. The Steelers forced three interceptions. They sacked Carr three times and hit him five times overall.

"Let's be honest, we've been pretty clear that if we were going to do something in this season that they had to play like that," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. "They're the more senior group. They got the more established players and so forth.

Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 16 game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Acrisure Stadium

"So, not that we don't appreciate it, but it's expected. I think they expect it of themselves, probably the most important thing."

It's just a shame it hasn't been there all season as a young offensive group figured things out.

The Steelers are now 6-2 in games played by outside T.J. Watt this season. They have held six of their past seven opponents to 17 or fewer points with Watt in the lineup.

And because of that, they're still alive in the playoff race in the AFC – even if barely so (more on that later).

But this group is certainly capable of doing that, much as Tomlin felt it would be.

• Cam Heyward didn't get voted to the Pro Bowl this season, but he was the best player on the football field in this game, dominating rookie guard Dylan Parham.

Heyward finished with seven tackles, two sacks, three tackles for a loss, two quarterback hits and a batted pass.

Heyward spent as much time in the Raiders' backfield as Carr.

"He played his butt off tonight," said Watt. "He does every week, but it seemed like he was in the backfield every single play. I'm happy for him because I know how much work he puts into this and how personal he takes everything in the building."

Heyward carried a No. 32 flag onto the field when he was announced in pre-game warmups and it really looked like there just wasn't any way he was going to allow the Steelers to lose on a night when they honored Franco Harris, who passed away earlier this week at the age of 72.

"You know, Coach Tomlin, he doesn't like to get into dedicating a game to a certain person because it can go one or two ways," Heyward said. "But I think for us, it was a tip of the cap to not only just a Steelers legend, but a great man, a person in this community who you could always count on, a guy when he retired, he still wanted to be your teammate."

Heyward didn't play for the Steelers of the 1970s. But there have been few players who get it like he does.

He's a treasure to this team and a big reason why there's just no quit in these Steelers.

• Once again, the offense moved the football. The Steelers gained 350 total yards. They had two three-and-outs on 10 meaningful possessions in this game.

But Chris Boswell missed two field goals and Kenny Pickett threw an interception – ending his streak without throwing one at 146 passes – deep in Las Vegas territory to end another drive.

Considering the Raiders had just 201 yards of offense and turned the ball over three times, this game really shouldn't have been as close as it was.

As it was, it took a two-minute drive at the end to win it.

"All that matters is we got the W. It wasn't pretty," said Pickett, who completed 26 of 39 passes for 244 yards with one touchdown and an interception. "It wasn't what we wanted. The conditions were what they were. I feel like everyone locked in on what we had to do."

Pickett was 7 of 9 for 75 yards and a touchdown on the final drive.

He was calm, cool and collected. This is what gives you a lot of hope for this team in the future.

Carr is a good quarterback, an above-average starter in the NFL with plenty of experience. Pickett outplayed him in this game.

• It took a while for them to get there in this game, but once the Steelers started using Harris as a receiver out the backfield, things seemed to open up even more.

Harris finished with six catches for 42 yards, his most receiving yards of the season and matching his season-high for receptions.

He's a good receiver out of the backfield, and getting him the ball over the middle or out in the flat is a mismatch on most occasions.

• Minkah Fitzpatrick drew coverage with Raiders tight end Darren Waller a bunch of times in third down situations.

Waller caught a 34-yard pass on Fitzpatrick, but finished with four catches for 58 yards.

Overall, Fitzpatrick won the battle.

"Waller is a great tight end. He's athletic. He has great hands, great speed. He's athletic, so it's tough to cover," Fitzpatrick said. "I did a pretty good job besides the one deep ball they got to him. He's a great player.

"They were trying to get it to him because he's a playmaker, especially on third downs."

Many teams wouldn't use their All-Pro free safety to try and handle a true receiving tight end. It just shows the kind of trust the Steelers have in Fitzpatrick.

"I love it. That's what I play the game for," Fitzpatrick said. "I can't consider myself one of the best if I'm not going up against one of the best."

• The offensive line and tight ends deserve a tip of the cap for not allowing a sack in this one despite facing top edge rusher Maxx Crosby.

The Steelers doubled Crosby a lot, but despite that, didn't allow anyone else to get to Pickett, either.

Crosby had all four of the Raiders' quarterback hits in the game, but didn't record a sack and managed four tackles.

• Tomlin preaches that everyone has to be ready to play regardless of the situation. So it was for safety Elijah Riley, called up off the practice squad earlier in the day with Terrell Edmunds out with a hamstring injury.

When backup Tre Norwood then went down late in the first half while assisting Fitzpatrick on the tackle of Waller on the 34-yard catch, Riley had to step into Norwood's role.

He finished with two tackles and was part of a defensive effort in the second half that allowed 50 yards of offense on six possessions.

"I prepared myself like I was going to play a full game," Riley said. "I don't want to step on the field under-prepared. I'm very fortunate to have teammates who helped me out when I needed it out there and kept me in the loop throughout the week."

Riley was part of that effort in holding Adams without a catch in the second half.

"We wanted to limit his opportunity to get the ball in his hands, similarly with Waller," Riley said. "They are their big-time playmakers. We wanted to force them to run the ball and then get the stops there. The weather worked out and helped us, too."

• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

But the weather was the same for both teams. This was all about a great defensive effort.

• Tip of the cap to punter Pressley Harvin. He averaged a 46.7-yard gross average and a 42.3-yard net average on three punts in this game.

These bad weather games were the ones in which Harvin struggled last season as a rookie. He did not struggle in this game and was actually a reason why the Steelers won in a game dominated by field position.

• Connor Heyward got his first career carry, breaking off a 21-yard run on the Steelers' final offensive play before going down on his own in bounds.

Heyward said he knew to go down in bounds to keep the clock rolling. But even if he didn't, he got some reminders.

"I knew on my own to go down," Heyward said. "But everyone was yelling for me to go down, too. But I knew."

• If both the Chargers and Dolphins win in the next two days, the Steelers will be eliminated from playoff contention.

But at least they went to bed on Christmas Eve with a win and the thought that there's still meaningful football left to be played.

All you can do in this situation is handle your own business and not worry about the rest of it. The Raiders, after all, had to fly home early Christmas Day morning knowing they had already been eliminated.