Steelers honor Franco Harris by rallying past Raiders 13-10

Dec 24, 2022, 6:30 AM | Updated: 9:53 pm
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin meets with reporters after an NFL football game against ...

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin meets with reporters after an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 25, 2022. The Steelers won 13-10. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)

(AP Photo/Fred Vuich)

              Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin meets with reporters after an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 25, 2022. The Steelers won 13-10. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)
            
              Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver George Pickens (14) scores during the second half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
            
              Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Hunter Renfrow (13) dives for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)
            
              Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)
            
              Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (28) is tackled during the second half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
            
              Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (22) gets a block by teammate Diontae Johnson (18) against Las Vegas Raiders safety Duron Harmon (30) during the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)
            
              Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver George Pickens (14) runs after a catch with Las Vegas Raiders linebacker Luke Masterson (59) defending during the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)
            
              Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Alex Highsmith (56) celebrates after a sack during the second half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)
            
              Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II, left, Franco Harris' widow Dana, center, and son Dok attend a ceremony to retire Harris' No. 32 jersey at half-time of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. Harris, a four-time Super Bowl champion, passed away Dec. 21, 2022, at the age of 72. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)
            
              Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II, left, and Franco Harris' widow Dana, center, and son Dok, attend a ceremony to retire Harris' No. 32 jersey at half-time of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. Harris, a four-time Super Bowl champion, passed away Dec. 21, 2022, at the age of 72. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
            
              Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward (97) carries a banner with the uniform number of Pittsburgh Steelers' Franco Harris as he is introduced before an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mike Tomlin wasn’t ready to go there, with all due respect.

Yes, the Pittsburgh Steelers coach 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, the one that ended with Steelers running back Franco Harris snagging a deflected pass and sprinting into NFL lore with what’s universally known as “The Immaculate Reception.”

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

Yet the similarities end there. Harris’ play was voted the most famous in NFL history during its 100th anniversary season in 2020 and helped launch a dynasty.

What happened at frigid Acrisure Stadium on Christmas Eve of 2022 was not that.

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

Still, Tomlin can appreciate that Pickett, Pickens and all the rest of Pittsburgh’s still incredibly young offense etched what he called a “small place in Steelers lore” by putting together an impressive late drive that kept Pittsburgh’s slim playoff hopes alive while simultaneously paying tribute to Harris.

The Hall of Fame running back died on Wednesday, two days before the golden anniversary of his defining play and three days before the franchise retired his No. 32. His sudden passing turned what was supposed to be a celebration of his career into a poignant reflection on his remarkable life.

The current Steelers — all of whom were born after Harris retired in 1984 — did their best to pay tribute. Tight end Pat Freiermuth, a Penn State graduate just like Harris, suggested to Tomlin during the week that the entire team show up on Saturday night wearing replicas of Harris’ jersey.

Defensive end and co-captain Cam Heyward ran onto the field waving a massive flag with Harris’ number on it. Pickett made a dummy “Franco! Franco” call during his cadence before sneaking for a first down.

During halftime, Harris’ widow Dana Dokmanovich, and their son, Dok, joined team president Art Rooney II for a tearful ceremony that included Dokmanovich leaning into Rooney for support after he presented her with her late husband’s jersey.

“We dedicated this to Franco,” Pickett said. “Felt like he was with us tonight.”

Pickett 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,” Heyward said. “I like to think we just keep getting better and better as the weeks go on.”

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

The Raiders (6-9), coming off a dramatic last-play victory over New England last week, reverted to their form from earlier this season by losing their eighth one-score game of the year. They could be eliminated from the playoffs by the end of the week.

“We’ve pulled out plenty (of games) and then to lose in this fashion when you have a shot to win, you realize you’re close but close doesn’t really count in this league,” Las Vegas head coach Josh McDaniels said. “I obviously have to do a better job to try and close the gap.”

It was a gap the Raiders found themselves on the right side of for the first 59-plus minutes at the second-coldest home game in Steelers’ history.

Carr started crisply in the 8-degree (minus-13 Celsius) weather — the coldest home game for the Steelers since 1989 — and finished off a 14-play, 71-yard opening drive with a 14-yard touchdown strike to Hunter Renfrow.

Yet Las Vegas let the Steelers hang around, and Pickett — whose name was announced by Harris when Pittsburgh took him with the 20th overall pick in last spring’s draft — provided the first signature moment of what the Steelers hope will be a decorated career.

“I can’t say enough about (our young offensive players), all of them,” Tomlin said. “They showed poised and resolve and made the necessary plays. We move forward with a really good Christmas.”

INJURIES

Raiders: DE Chandler Jones exited with a left elbow injury in the third quarter after colliding with teammate Maxx Crosby and did not return. … LB Denzel Perryman went to the locker room with a left shoulder injury in the fourth quarter.

Steelers: CB Tre Norwood left in the first half with a hamstring injury and did not return.

UP NEXT

Raiders: Host NFC West champion San Francisco on Jan. 1.

Steelers: At Baltimore on Jan. 1. The Ravens edged Pittsburgh 16-14 at Acrisure Stadium on Dec. 11.

___

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Steelers honor Franco Harris by rallying past Raiders 13-10