PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth and running back Najee Harris combined to pull in half of the team’s receptions in its 13-6 Christmas Eve victory over the Las Vegas Raiders. More importantly, though, they seemed to provide a security blanket for rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett, who was making his return from his second concussion of the season.
Freiermuth grabbed seven footballs on eight targets, accounting for a team-high 66 yards. Harris reeled in six catches on nine looks, totaling 42 yards. Before George Pickens’ go-ahead score, Harris and Freiermuth were the only receivers Pickett went toward on the team’s penultimate series.
“They made the plays when called upon,” Tomlin said. “I think the end of the game kind of reflected that. Muth made a big play. Naj (Harris) made a big play jumping somebody … We’ve just got a bunch of young guys that’s got some talent. They’re getting better. They are good enough to win as that happens. We just better keep rolling our sleeves up and keeping our head down, our mouth shut and working.”
Almost all of the instances in which Pickett threw the ball their way came in the second half after the defense had made the decision to put an emphasis on covering Pittsburgh’s highest-paid pass-catcher.
“Everyone goes, like, ‘Are you looking for somebody?'” Pickett said. “I don’t look for anybody. The defense tells me what to do and I throw to that guy. Pat was in that position. Tae (Johnson) was in that position earlier, then they started doubling Tae, so the ball got moved around. That’s how the flow of the game goes and how it is … We had Pat in those zones. They played a lot more two-high zone than we expected, and that’s where Pat is going to step up for us.”
A good amount of Harris’ receptions came out of the backfield, including one not a minute into the fourth frame in which he hurdled Raiders cornerback Nate Hobbs en route to a 17-yard pickup. It was just another snippet he can add to his Steelers highlight reel.
“Week in and week out, you can count on 22 (Harris) showing up and bring that physicality,” Pickett said. “Him, Jaylen (Warren), all the backs. I have a lot of comfort in checking the ball down to them and letting them go do the work like that after the catch, so if I feel like I can get them in space, it’s just as good as if I could throw it down the field. My job is to distribute to those guys, get them in space, and they do the rest.”
Steelers veteran defensive lineman Cameron Heyward even took notice of the success Pickett had with the receiving duo.
“I thought Pat played a really good game,” he said. “Najee finishing plays. And them just having the poise on that last drive. You see an offense really grow in that moment.”