They said Kenny Pickett grew up as a rookie quarterback a week earlier when he led the Steelers’ game-winning drive to beat the Las Vegas Raiders and keep their faint playoff hopes alive on Franco Harris Night at Acrisure Stadium.
So what are they saying about Pickett today after he threw a game-winning 10-yard touchdown pass to Najee Harris with 56 seconds left Sunday night to beat the Baltimore Ravens 16-13 on the road and keep the Steelers relevant going into their final game next Sunday at home against the Cleveland Browns?
How about this mouthful from NBC’s Cris Collinsworth during the telecast?
“That’s a Patrick Mahomes moment. That’s a play that separates quarterbacks apart.”
The winning pass to Harris finished a wonderful day for the Steelers. They got the help they needed in the earlier games when the New England Patriots beat the Miami Dolphins and the Seattle Seahawks beat the New York Jets. They then found a way — the Pickett-led 11-play, 80-yard final drive — to take care of business against the rival Ravens on a night they trailed 13-3 late in the third quarter.
The Steelers still need plenty of help to make the playoffs. Of course, they must beat the Browns. The Buffalo Bills also must beat the Patriots in Buffalo, which doesn’t seem like much of a reach. But the Jets, who have been eliminated from the playoff chase, must beat the Dolphins in Miami. The Dolphins might have serious quarterback issues with Tua Tagovailoa in concussion protocol and backup Teddy Bridgewater knocked out of Sunday’s game with a broken finger on his passing hand, leaving third-stringer Skylar Thompson to finish.
The experts still give the Steelers only a 15% of making the postseason.
Not that Mike Tomlin and his players cared about that late Sunday night.
“That’s this game, particularly at this level,” Tomlin said after the Steelers nudged their record to 8-8 and kept his chances alive of finishing with a 16th consecutive non-losing season.
“There are going to be challenges. You are going to be up against it. It’s not about what happens to you. It’s about how you respond to it. We’re a group that stays solid in spite of circumstance. As long as we keep bringing that stay-solid mentality, it’s in front of us. ...
“We march forward.”
No one displayed that mental toughness more than Pickett on the final drive. He avoided pressure and threw for a 20-yard completion to Pat Freiermuth. He threw a perfect pass down the middle for a 28-yard gain by Steven Sims. He even sneaked for two first downs.
But it was that final pass to Harris that had Collinsworth and much of the football world buzzing.
Pickett was chased to his left, avoiding pressure from the Ravens’ Jason Pierre-Paul. He kept his eyes downfield and found Harris behind linebacker Roquan Smith.
All of a sudden, the Steelers still were alive.
Like Collinsworth, Tomlin gushed about Pickett.
“I can’t say enough about our young [quarterback]. He smiles in the face of it. He’s always ready to be that guy in the moments that we need him to be that guy. It’s just good to see it in a young guy. None of us are surprised by what he does from an intangible standpoint.”
It was a big night for Harris, as well. He ran better, harder and tougher than he has all season, finishing with 111 hard-earned yards on 22 carries. Jaylen Warren contributed 76 yards to the Steelers’ 198 rushing yards.
“When we control the line of scrimmage, we win the game,” Harris said. “It’s plain and simple. That’s what Mike T challenged us as an offense, challenged me — to get downhill and run on them. That’s what we did.”
“Najee wants it,” Tomlin said. “He wants to be the focal point. He likes the tough circumstances. It’s good to have young people who are running to it as opposed to from it. We got some young people that run to the action. That’s a good thing.”
The Steelers defense did its part, although it caught a break when Ravens backup quarterback Tyler Huntley started again for injured Lamar Jackson. The Ravens managed just one touchdown. And that shouldn’t have been a touchdown.
Cam Heyward — of all people — was penalized for unnecessary roughness after the Steelers appeared to force the Ravens into a field-goal situation late in the first half. He appeared to argue to the officials and later to teammate Minkah Fitzpatrick on the sideline that he merely was trying to get up from a pile. The first down kept the Ravens offense on the field. On the next play, Huntley threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Isaiah Likely to give the Ravens a 10-3 lead at halftime.
Pickett and Harris made sure Heyward’s penalty didn’t doom the Steelers’ season.
“Two highly competitive guys finishing and making a play,” Tomlin said with no small measure of satisfaction.
A season-saving play.
At least for now.