PITTSBURGH — Down by four with under three minutes to play in a must-win game against the Las Vegas Raiders at a frigid Acrisure Stadium on Saturday night, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin took a good, hard look at his offense, led mostly by young players like Kenny Pickett, George Pickens, Pat Freiermuth and Najee Harris.
He liked what he saw.
“When you’re in those weighty moments and you’re looking around at people, you like to feel their presence,” Tomlin said Tuesday in his weekly press conference at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “And, in a lot of instances, I did. I didn’t see big eyes, I saw sure eyes. I saw guys that understood what was at stake and guys that looked prepared to go do it … I liked the feel of the group leading up to it.”
The attack proceeded to march 76 yards in 10 plays to score the go-ahead touchdown in what became a 13-10 home win. Rookies Pickett and Pickens, along with second-year guys Harris and Freiermuth, were the driving forces behind the drive. Freiermuth caught three passes from Pickett for 42 yards and Harris accounted for 28 receiving yards on that series before Pickens pulled in the air strike for a score.
The drive was an outlier in what was a rough overall day for the offense. But they got it done when the game was on the line.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Pickett said in a press conference following the game. “It wasn’t what we wanted. The conditions were what they were. I feel like everyone was locked in on what we had to do. We didn’t let that affect us. We came together, executed at a high level for the final two-minute drive, and got in the end zone and won the game, so that’s all that matters.”
Directly after the contest, the Steelers’ 16th-year head coach expressed his excitement in watching the unit get the job done.
“I’m so happy that our young guys had an opportunity to do that in some small way,” Tomlin said then.
The task of maturation, namely among that bunch, can go hand-in-hand with success, Tomlin made known once again on Tuesday.
“I’ve been pretty consistent in my messaging,” he said. “I acknowledge that, in a lot of ways, those individuals and that collective is in the process of growth. But, while doing so, I’ll continue to acknowledge that they’re good enough to win while doing so. We don’t grade on a curve in terms of what we expect in terms of the outcome of games.”
Tomlin added that Pickett’s fortitude was something he’s been aware of since before the signal-caller began suiting up for the Steelers.
“I imagine he was born with it,” he said. “I know that it’s not the first time I’ve seen it. I know it’s not the first time that people from Western PA have seen it. We’ve seen him do it next door. I think that’s why we had such a great deal of comfort in his intangible quality from a draft evaluation perspective … It is real. I don’t think any of us are surprised by it.”