Steelers honor Franco Harris by rallying past Raiders

PITTSBURGH — 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 win over the same franchise 50 years ago that ended with Steelers running back Franco Harris and catching a deflected pass and sprint into NFL history with what is commonly known as “The Immaculate Reception.”

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

But the similarities end there. Harris’ game was voted the most famous in NFL history during the league’s 100th anniversary season in 2020 and helped start a dynasty.

What happened at the cold Acrisure Stadium on Christmas Eve 2022 wasn’t like that.

“I won’t try to put it in this neighborhood,” Tomlin said, laughing. “Not even in this town.”

Still, Tomlin can appreciate that Pickett, Pickens and the rest of Pittsburgh’s impossibly young offensive line have etched what he called “a small space in Steelers lore” by putting together an impressive late drive that Pittsburghs did kept low playoff hopes alive while paying tribute to Harris.

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

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

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

At halftime, Harris’ widow Dana Dokmanovich and her son Dok met with team president Art Rooney II in a tearful ceremony, during which Dokmanovich leaned on Rooney in support after presenting her with her late husband’s jersey.

“We dedicated this to Franco,” Pickett said. “Tonight it felt like he was with us.”

Pickett completed 26 of 39 passes for 244 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Freiermuth caught seven passes for 66 yards and Najee Harris had 95 yards total as the Steelers (7-8) won for the fifth time in seven games.

“We’re still on the hunt,” Heyward said. “I like to think that we’re getting better and better as the weeks go on.”

Derek Carr threw for 174 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions, the last a floater in midfield that was picked up by Cam Sutton with 29 seconds left. Pittsburgh rookie Connor Heyward ran for a first down to help the Steelers lose time.

The Raiders (6-9), who clinched a dramatic final-game win over New England last week, returned to their form from earlier this season by losing their eighth game by a goal of the year. They could be out of the playoffs by the end of the week.

“We got a lot out of it [of games] and then when you lose that way, when you have a chance to win, you realize you’re close, but close doesn’t really matter in this league,” said Las Vegas head coach Josh McDaniels. “I obviously have to do a better job of trying to close the gap.”

It was a gap where the Raiders found themselves on the right flank for the first 59+ minutes in the second coldest home game in Steelers history.

Carr started in a crisp 8-degree weather — the coldest home game for the Steelers since 1989 — and ended a 14-play, 71-yard opening drive with a 14-yard touchdown strike against Hunter Renfrow .

But Las Vegas let the Steelers hang around, and Pickett – whose name was revealed by Harris when Pittsburgh picked him up with the 20th –

“I can’t say enough about it [our young offensive players], all of them,” said Tomlin. “They showed poise and determination and made the necessary plays. We’re going to continue with a really good Christmas.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Steelers honor Franco Harris by rallying past Raiders

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