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Pittsburgh Steelers’ Comeback Win A Christmas Miracle

Pittsburgh Steelers Week 16

The Week 16 matchup between the Las Vegas Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers could not have been any less meaningful or emotional. Just one day after celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception, the two teams clashed on Christmas Eve in a game with major playoff implications. The teams battled in the frigid, windy Pittsburgh night and the Steelers pulled off a win in the form of a Christmas miracle. They were down for the entire Week 16 game but scored the game-winning touchdown with less than a minute left. It was a memorable and emotional night in Pittsburgh as the Steelers honored Franco Harris, the key player in the Immaculate Reception, just days after his sudden death. With the close 13-10 win, the Steelers moved to 7-8 on the year and surprisingly still remain alive in the AFC playoff race.

READ MORE: Week 15 Win Recap

Pittsburgh Steelers Grab Week 16 Win On Christmas Eve In Meaningful, Emotional Game

Circumstances Surrounding The Game

The Raiders met the Steelers in Week 16 but it was more than just a regular season matchup. Friday the 23rd marked the 50th anniversary of the Raiders and Steelers game that ended in the Immaculate Reception. Franco Harris, Pittsburgh’s rookie running back who scored the nearly-impossible touchdown 50 years ago, passed away a few days ago. The team was set to honor and celebrate Harris, his teammates, and the play that brought the Steelers their first-ever playoff win; they were also planning to retire his #32. However, due to his unexpected death, the celebration was more somber and emotional. Harris’ number was still retired but it felt like he was there all night, as Acrisure Stadium was filled with “32” decor and fanfare.

Although it was a night to remember the past, it was also a night to look to the future. Both the Raiders and the Steelers, who both made the playoffs last year, were fighting to stay alive in this year’s race. Both teams entered 6-8 and a loss would effectively end that team’s season. Luckily for the Steelers, they prevailed within the last minute and kept their slim playoff chances alive.

Game Summary

A Rather Uneventful First Half

The Raiders first drive highlighted what many thought the game would be like. They rode Josh Jacobs and the short passing game en route to a touchdown to open the game. Because it was so cold and windy, many expected both sides to ride the run and just take what they could in the passing game, and not take too many shots. Derek Carr looked really good on the opening drive, finding Hunter Renfrow for a 14-yard score for the latter’s first touchdown of the year.

Neither team had much success after that touchdown, as neither team scored on either of their next two possessions. The Steelers had a chance to score but kicker Chris Boswell’s 43-yard field goal attempt went left and kept it at 7-0. On their third possession, the Steelers got three points thanks to a 44-yard field goal at the other end of the field. The Raiders put together a quick drive at the end of the half that ended in a field goal, making the score 10-3 at halftime; this would be the last time the Raiders would score.

Third Quarter Filled With Turnovers

Both teams put together a few promising drives but the third quarter was scoreless for both teams. Kenny Pickett threw one interception while Derek Carr threw two in the miserable third quarter. After the first of Carr’s interceptions, the Steelers had Boswell attempt another long field goal, this time from 52 yards out. This one was also blown left by the cold winds and kept the score at 10-3.

Steelers Win Late in Fourth Quarter Comeback

On the opening drive of the fourth quarter, the Steelers added another field goal on the board to make the score 10-6. The 40-yarder from Boswell pulled the score within four with just under ten minutes to play. The Raiders punted twice and the Steelers once after that field goal drive. After those three drives, the Steelers got the ball back with 2:55 to play. Kenny Pickett found Pat Freiermuth and Najee Harris multiple times on the drive and got the ball, through the air, to the 14 yard line. From there, Pickett found rookie receiver George Pickens on a post route over the middle, and that put Pittsburgh up for good. With just 45 seconds left, the Steelers had taken the lead on a magical night and had seemingly won the game.

The Raiders would get another chance but a desperation throw led to a third interception for Carr. The Raiders still had all three timeouts so the Steelers needed to get a first down to clinch the win. A first down run went nowhere, but on second down, Connor Heyward took a jet sweep for 21 yards to seal the deal. With the win, the Steelers move to 7-8 while the Raiders fell to 6-9 and clinched a losing season.

Offense Comes Back But Suffers in Cold

The offense struggled for most of the game, scoring just six points through the first 59 minutes of the game. It’s not that they struggled to move the ball, but instead, they could not get many points in the weather. Their game-winning drive gave them the winning push.

Kenny Pickett finished 26/39 (66.7%) passing for 244 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. He made a lot of good throws in cold air but let quite a few sail on him. He was constantly missing open targets high but he did enough to get the win. The Steelers’ big three in their receiving core have tons of potential and are open a lot more than you’d think. As Pickett begins to settle in and settle down, it will be hard to hang with this star-studded offense.

Finding A New Identity

For the seventh time in the past eight games, the Steelers’ run game amassed 100 yards. Najee Harris, as usual, was the Steelers leading rusher; he took 16 carries and turned them into 53 yards. It wasn’t the most productive night for Harris, as it seemed the offense line was a bit slow and sluggish. But he was able to break a lot of tackles and therefore rack up some more yards. Jaylen Warren also added 23 yards on six carries. Overall, the success of the run game has really changed the dynamic of the Steelers offense and gives a boost the franchise has been looking for for some time.

As far as the receiving game goes, the team put together their most balanced passing attack all year. Every game so far, it seems only one or two receivers can do well while the others suffer through a lack of targets. But in Week 16, that was far from the truth. Both Diontae Johnson and George Pickens each had five catches, with the first going for 64 yards and the next going for 57 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Pat Freiermuth also had seven catches for 66 yards, one week after putting up a goose egg. Najee Harris added six catches for 42 yards, contributing to the Steelers’ most complete receiving game all year.

Defense Steps Up In Big Second Half

Early on, it looked like the defense was going to be rough all night, as the Raiders marched down the field for a touchdown on their opening possession. But after that, they allowed just three more points in the next three-and-a-half quarters. The unit forced three interceptions and also sacked Derek Carr three times too. Cameron Heyward led the way with seven tackles, two sacks, and three tackles for loss. He was a force all night long and played well in a potentially season-ending game.

Arthur Maulet, Cam Sutton, and Minkah Fitzpatrick all had interceptions in Week 16. For Fitzpatrick, he caught his team-leading fifth pick of the year. Sutton’s pick sealed the deal at the end of the game, as he picked off Carr on a deep attempt in the waning seconds of the game.

While all of the pressures, sacks, and interceptions were great, the entire defensive unit deserves recognition for holding the Raiders’ stars in check. Josh Jacobs, the NFL’s leading rusher, was held to just 44 yards on 15 carries. The Steelers limited his big gains and kept him in check, forcing the team to turn to the passing game. There, the Steelers held all-star receiver Davante Adams to just two catches for 15 yards, and on nine targets. Overall, Carr finished with just 174 yards in the game and struggled quite a bit due to the impressive play of the Steelers defense.

Steelers Remain Alive, But Barely

With the Week 16 win, Pittsburgh moves to 7-8 and somehow, someway, they are still alive in the AFC playoff race. They will need six games to go their way in order to sneak into the 2022 playoffs. They first need to win both of their remaining games; next week, they’ll take on their divisional rival, the Baltimore Ravens, on the road and then head back home to take on the Cleveland Browns for the last game of the season. With two wins, they’d finish 9-8 and need some tiebreakers to sneak into the seventh spot. They need the Dolphins to lose out (playing the Patriots and Jets) but also the Patriots and Jets to lose their other game (Patriots against Bills, Jets against Seahawks). The injury of Tua Tagovailoa certainly hinders the Dolphins chances and also gives an increase to the Steelers’ chances.


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