PITTSBURGH — When it comes to net punting, Pittsburgh Steelers punter Pressley Harvin III has been about middle of the road in his rookie year.
Harvin has averaged a net 41.4 yards per punt, which is 16th in the leauge, or almost the dead-even midpoint of regular NFL punters. Despite Harvin’s reputation coming out of Georgia Tech as being a kicker with a big leg first and foremost, he’s not booting them deep and daring teams to bring them back.
Harvin has averaged just 44.4 yards gross, which is the fifth-lowest in the league. Instead, he’s been focused on hang time and preventing returns. Harvin’s punts have yielded just 108 return yards this season, the fourth-fewest of punters with at least 12 games played.
But despite that emphasis, downing punts inside the 20 hasn’t been a big factor for Harvin this season. He entered the Steelers’ Week 13 game with the Atlanta Falcons with 16 those, solidly in the middle of the pack.
That obviously has to do with where Harvin has been punting from. He only has three touchbacks. So most of his punts have come from deep in the Pittsburgh end of the field.
But when he got an opportunity in Atlanta to drop one deep to pin the Falcons back, he sure made it count.
The Steelers offense got the ball back with the lead against the Falcons with just over 5:30 to play in the game. The Steelers wanted to run out the clock on offense, but when Kenny Pickett slid short of the line of gain on third down, head coach Mike Tomlin had a decision to make.
He could go for the yard and try to win the game on offense. He could send Matthew Wright out for his fifth field goal attempt, to make it a six-point lead. Or he could send out Harvin, and trust the defense and special teams to get it done.
Tomlin chose the latter, taking a delay of game penalty to set the Steelers up with a 4th and 11 at the Atlanta 40. Harvin took the high snap from Christian Kuntz and sent the ball sailing toward the goal line. Atlanta punt return Avery Williams was content to let it bounce, and it did, landing at the 1-yard line and bouncing straight up into the air. Miles Boykin fell on it at the 2 and the Falcons were pinned back deep.
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One play later, Marcus Mariota threw from his own end zone, Minkah Fitzpatrick intercepted it, and the game was over.
“It’s just good to get contributions from all three phases in the weighty moments to secure victory,” head coach Mike Tomlin said immediately after the win.
The specialist were more than happy to take their turn in the spotlight. Wright, replacing the injured Chris Boswell, had four field goals in the win. He also kept the ball away from Falcons kickoff return Cordarrelle Patterson all day and combined with Harvin and Boykins’ clutch punt and downing, it was a special teams kind of victory for the Steelers.
“Man, I tell you, it was as play that was needed,” Harvin said. “It was a play we practice all the time in practice and it happened in the moment that we needed it in the game. The events that transpired after that won’t happen without special teams. … It’s just a perfect storm of what happened.”
Harvin is a South Carolina native, but spent his college kicking in Midtown Atlanta for the Yellow Jackets and had plenty of people there to cheer him on, which made getting the big moment and coming through even more sweet.
“There were 35 people in the stand that I knew of that got tickets from me,” Harvin said. “Being back in Atlanta, man, it was all fun. It was a real good game for us.”
Those that came to see Harvin had to be patient. Outside of his work as the team’s holder, he didn’t get a chance to do much as the Steelers scored on every possession of the first half.
His first punt game of the game came on the second play of the fourth quarter — a 47-yarder that was fair caught by Williams with no return.
“Man, I will take those every single time we get out there,” Harvin said. “I sometimes hope I get out there just to try to make a difference. But I know fourth down isn’t the best to try to do it on.”
Of course, that final 38-yard punt did drag his average down. But I don’t think you’ll hear Harvin complain about that.