3 Takeaways from Steelers' Week 16 Win vs. Raiders
The Pittsburgh Steelers notched a thrilling comeback win over the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday on the 50th anniversary of the fabled Immaculate Reception.
The historic play's biggest star, Franco Harris, didn't get to see Pittsburgh's latest win, as he died at the age of 72 on Tuesday. However, Steelers fans got a good look at their team's future with Kenny Pickett (concussion) returning to action.
Pickett helped the Steelers overcome a sluggish start and rallied Pittsburgh for a 13-10 victory. The win keeps Pittsburgh's unlikely playoff hopes alive and staves off Mike Tomlin's first losing season for at least another week.
Here are our three biggest takeaways from Pittsburgh's Week 16 win over the Raiders.
Kenny Pickett Continues to Show That He Is the Future
Pickett came into 2022 as the league's only first-round quarterback and a mountain of expectations. In addition to having to justify his draft status, the Pitt product faced the tough task of replacing future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger.
While Pickett has a long way to go before he can be compared to Big Ben, his performance in Week 16 was the latest sign that the Steelers have their next franchise quarterback.
The Steelers offense struggled for most of the game, and two missed field goals by Chris Boswell led to a four-point deficit late in the fourth quarter. With less than three minutes remaining, Pickett engineered a 10-play, 76-yard touchdown drive that left only 46 seconds on the clock.
It was a masterful series by the young quarterback, who continues to show that the game and the big moments aren't too big for him. Not only did Pickett get the needed touchdown, but he also left Las Vegas with little time to respond.
Derek Carr threw an interception on the ensuing desperation drive to wrap up the victory for Pittsburgh.
"We all should tip our hat off to Kenny because for him to come in here as a rookie and just take over this role in this organization, and I think he's doing a really good job," running back Najee Harris told NFL Network after the game.
The Steelers have their quarterback of the future.
Pickett's Supporting Cast Is Also Largely Set
What's great for Steelers fans is the fact that Pittsburgh has more than just its quarterback in place. While the Steelers can and should focus on reloading the offensive line in the offseason, Pickett is surrounded by great young talent at every skill position.
Harris was a rookie Pro Bowler last season, and while he hasn't been as great this year, he's a quality dual threat who came up big Sunday with three catches on the touchdown drive.
Pickett also has a budding star at tight end in second-year man Pat Freiermuth, who had three receptions on the touchdown drive. Freiermuth, who has 60 catches for 696 yards this season, will be Pickett's outlet option for years to come.
Then, there's rookie second-round pick George Pickens, who caught the game-winning touchdown from Pickett. The Georgia product has 47 catches and 700 yards this season and possesses the potential to grow alongside Pickett into a perennial Pro Bowler.
Harris, Freiermuth and Pickens are all in their first or second seasons. Each showed he can be a pivotal offensive playmaker on Saturday's game-winning drive, and none of them will be going anywhere anytime soon.
The Playoffs Are Unlikely but Not Impossible
The biggest takeaway from Saturday's win is that the Steelers continue to show a lot of fight. This shouldn't be surprising, as Pittsburgh has never experienced a losing season under Tomlin in the previous 15 years.
If the Steelers win their last two games, at the rival Baltimore Ravens and against the Cleveland Browns, they will keep Tomlin's streak alive. They could also sneak into the postseason, though currently at 7-8, that's extremely unlikely.
Pittsburgh will need a lot of help. The current 11th seed is tied with the New England Patriots, New York Jets and Tennessee Titans in winning percentage—but has losses to New England and New York. The Steelers are also a game behind the Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Chargers, who would have the last two playoff spots if the season ended today.
To get in, the Steelers must somehow finish a full game ahead of New England, New York and Miami.
For now, Pittsburgh must focus on beating Baltimore, a team that is still in contention for the AFC North crown. It won't be easy, but the Steelers came close to upsetting the Ravens just three weeks ago.
The Steelers lost Pickett to a concussion in the first meeting. With him back in the fold, getting to 8-8 in Week 17 is entirely possible. The rest of the playoff equation is largely out of Pittsburgh's hands.