The Pittsburgh Steelers are making a late surge after their Christmas Eve win over the Las Vegas Raiders. Here’s what we learned from the game.
Christmas Eve was filled with emotions for football fans around the globe, as the recent passing of Hall of Fame running back, Franco Harris was difficult to handle. The Steelers hosted the Raiders in a primetime matchup and Harris’ number 32 jersey was officially retired at halftime of the game.
This was obviously the main storyline surrounding the game, but on Christmas Eve and with frigid conditions in Pittsburgh, Mike Tomlin’s team tried to keep the momentum going that they have found since the bye. Eventually, they were able to seal a 13-10 comeback victory, but it wasn’t always pretty. Here are my biggest takeaways from the game.
Steelers defense is coming alive
There are a number of factors fans might point to, but there’s no questioning the Pittsburgh Steelers defense looks different since the bye week. While T.J. Watt hasn’t made a big impact in the box score, he is clearly garnering the attention of the opposing teams. He did this again against the Raiders — allowing players like Cameron Heyward and Alex Highsmith to feed. Some may also point to the fact that Pittsburgh has had an easier schedule in the second half.
Whatever the reason, this unit showed up to play against the Raiders. they forced Derek Carr into 3 costly interceptions and they barely gave an inch to Pro Bowl running back, Josh Jacobs — who manged just 44 yards on 15 carries (2.9 yards per carry), per ESPN stats. Likewise, star WR Davante Adams was held to just 15 yards on 9 targets. We couldn’t have asked for a better performance from this defense.
Kenny Pickett struggled at times under cold conditions
I don’t ever want to come down too hard on a rookie quarterback — especially one who mounted a comeback drive with just 46 seconds remaining. However, I didn’t think it was a great overall performance from Kenny Pickett. The Steelers first-round pick threw a cringeworthy interception in this contest and had balls sail over the heads of his intended targets on multiple occasions.
Most importantly, Pittsburgh’s offense had just 3 points entering the 4th quarter and 6 points with a minute left to play in the game. I know that the cold played a factor here, but the Raiders have the 25th-ranked defense in the NFL, and it shouldn’t have taken until the ailing second of the game to put the ball in the endzone. Pickett clearly struggled under the cold conditions. Let’s hope this doesn’t become a trend when the weather is poor.
Steelers playoff hopes still hang by a thread
With the Steelers victory over the Raiders on Christmas Eve, Pittsburgh is not eliminated from playoff contention just yet. However, hope hangs by a thread. Prior to Week 16, Mike Tomlin’s team had just a 0.3 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight. Now that chance has jumped up to an even 2 percent.
Obviously, these aren’t great odds, and their fate still hinges on what happens with other teams like the Chargers, Dolphins, Patriots, and Jets in their final two games. I highly doubt the Steelers can make the playoffs — considering they don’t control their own destiny — but don’t tell that to Mike Tomlin.
Steelers played their hearts out for Franco Harris
The one thing most fans could agree on is that we would have loved to see the team win one for Franco Harris on this memorable Christmas Eve. They were able to accomplish exactly that almost 50 years to the day after the Immaculate Reception. Harris’ legacy will live on, and when we look back at this team, we won’t view it as a battle between two fringe teams with no playoff hope. Rather, we will remember the time the players and the roaring crowd at Acrisure Stadium did everything in their power to honor Franco Harris.