PITTSBURGH — Even after George Pickens scored a go-ahead touchdown with under a minute left to play and after Cam Sutton reeled in a diving interception that looked like it would ice the game, the Las Vegas Raiders still had three timeouts and were hopeful to potentially give their offense one more chance against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday night. So, who did the Steelers want to close out the game? How about a handoff to sixth-round rookie tight end Connor Heyward, who scampered for 21 yards to ice the 13-10 Steelers win.
On the play, the Raiders stacked up in the middle of the defense. There were six players across both A-gaps just to try and stop what they thought would be a handoff to Najee Harris from gaining any yardage. Then, there was the added effect that the Steelers had not run the jet sweep for most of the game up until that point. So, when Heyward came sprinting in motion from the wingback spot, they thought nothing of it. With the edges crashing into the backfield, it left the edges wide open. Derek Watt kicked out the cornerback and Heyward was gone.
“It’s definitely cool in the moment,” Heyward said. “I don’t think I’ve ever got a jet sweep in my life, so it was real cool. In college, I played running back a little bit, so I just used my running back skills and held the ball on the outside. We always repped that at practice, me and Derek, getting the jet sweep, we had to be ready for the unexpected. You never know when your number is going to be called.”
It was a genius play call by Matt Canada who saw the play coming. Heyward and the other wingbacks had seen a similar trend coming throughout the rest of the game as the Raiders started to disrespect the jet motion and the affect it could have on plays. The game-winning jet sweep by Heyward was the only one given all game, and by the end, the Las Vegas linebackers no longer even shifted with the motion as they did earlier. So, to pull it out at that time gave the Steelers an easy way to slam the door shut.
“It was a big-time win for us, the City of Pittsburgh, and this organization,” Heyward said. “On that play, we had seen their ends crashing down the line before it. We thought that jet sweep could be the call, and we ended the game with it. It was an awesome moment.”
Raiders defensive end Clelin Ferrell, who faced Canada’s offense in college with Clemson — the last Tigers loss in Death Valley — blew past Heyward on his way to the running back, and was completely fooled.
The one last thing Heyward had to do was slide to end the game and not go out of bounds. It was a heads-up play for a rookie, and the fact that the Steelers even trusted Heyward with toting the rock in that situation speaks volumes as to their trust in him. However, not only did it turn into a heads-up, smart football play, but the emotions of the win hit Heyward, too.
“In that situation, if you have a little bit of football awareness, you know what to do,” Heyward said. “Right there, I could’ve ran out of bounds or tried to score, but just get down and make sure we have the ball. We need the ball and we can get the win. And that carry, when I went down, it was big, but emotional.”
Heyward’s role in the offense has expanded in recent weeks. He scored his first career receiving touchdown in Atlanta and addition to his game-sealing rush, he had the best run-blocking grade of any Pittsburgh player against the Raiders, according to Pro Football Focus.
Among players drafted in the sixth or seventh round of the 2022 NFL Draft, Heyward’s 127 yards from scrimmage are second only to Kansas City Chiefs running back Isaiah Pacheco. Plays like Saturday’s continue to show why Heyward is trusted in the offense as the third tight end. Moving forward, since the Steelers are so tight end multiple, Heyward’s name will be called upon often.