With the playoffs slipping away and little to cheer about in a losing season, Pittsburgh Steelers fans are having even their fondest memories turn into moments of melancholy.
The sudden passing Wednesday of Hall of Famer Franco Harris on the eve of the Steelers retiring his jersey and city celebrating one of iconic moments in NFL history has cast a pall over Saturday’s Steelers-Las Vegas Raiders game.
The team said Wednesday it would still honor Harris and retire his jersey at halftime, although many of the other Friday and pregame festivities celebrating Harris and his Immaculate Reception were uncertain as the Steelers and Raiders continued to prepare for their Christmas Eve matchup.
The Steelers had invited members of their 1972 team, including Joe Greene, to attend their planned weekend celebrations and be a part of the halftime ceremony to retire Harris’ No. 32 jersey. Greene and former defensive lineman Ernie Stautner are the only other Steelers to have their jerseys retired.
The league scheduled the game to mark the anniversary of the Immaculate Reception: It will be 50 years and one day since Harris’ remarkable 60-yard touchdown with five seconds remaining gave the Steelers a 13-7 playoff victory against the Raiders on Dec. 23, 1972.
Both teams are 6-8 hoping to retain longshot playoff hopes, with the final playoff qualifier in the AFC at 8-6 and just three games remaining. Yet, both teams have improved lately, with the Raiders winning four of their last five games and the Steelers taking three of their last four.
The Raiders have shown an all-around game recently, with a stout defense, the NFL’s top rusher in Josh Jacobs (1,495 yards) and the pass-catch duo of Derek Carr and Davante Adams paying dividends after a slow start.
Las Vegas has landed on opposite ends of wild finishes in each of the past two weeks, following their late collapse against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 14 with a near-impossible victory in Week 15 courtesy of the New England Patriots’ misguided attempt at avoiding overtime.
On the last play of the game, Raiders defensive end Chandler Jones scooped up the second of two Patriots laterals and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown and the 30-24 victory.
“Every day, honestly, we’re trying to do the right thing,” Carr said about the Raiders keeping their playoff hopes alive. “We’re trying to get … everybody on the right page to do the right thing every day. When everybody does the right things, the result is good.
“A lot of things have to go our way. We have to work very hard and win this week. It starts with my preparation for the Steelers.”
The Raiders welcomed back a pair of pass catchers from injured reserve last week in Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller. Guard Alex Bars (knee) was listed as out of practice Tuesday, while defensive tackle Andrew Billings (fibula) was limited after last playing in Week 12.
The Steelers enter after a defensive-minded 24-16 road victory over the Carolina Panthers. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky was solid with 179 yards passing in a turnover-free performance while taking over for Kenny Pickett, who was out with a concussion.
Trubisky led the Steelers on TD drives during their first two possessions, while the Steelers defense held the Panthers to seven points over the first three quarters.
Pickett was listed as a full practice participant Tuesday and is expected to start against the Raiders. After a season-high 10 receptions, Pittsburgh wide receiver Diontae Johnson (toe) was limited as was running back Najee Harris (hamstring).
Offense might be hard to come by with projected temperatures in the single digits.
“We’ve got to be an all-weather group,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. “I think that everybody that lives here and plays here understands and embraces that. That’s one of the reasons why we continually take the (preparation) approach we take.
–Field Level Media
The Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers have watched their seasons go in opposite directions after the Steelers won their Week 1 meeting.
The Bengals are out to avenge that loss and keep pace in the AFC North Division standings when they visit Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Joe Burrow was sacked seven times and threw four interceptions when the Bengals (5-4) fell to the Steelers 23-20 in overtime on Sept. 11. Pittsburgh managed to spoil host Cincinnati’s first game since reaching Super Bowl LVI the previous winter.
The Bengals went on to start 0-2 but have gone 5-2 since. They’re one game behind the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North race with seven games to go. The Bengals, who lost to the Ravens on Oct. 8, close the regular season by hosting Baltimore.
“That’s always the goal. That’s right there for us,” Burrow said. “We are a game out of first place. We have to go and get this one and then we will take it from there.”
In their most recent game before their Week 10 bye, the Bengals trounced the Carolina Panthers 42-21. Joe Mixon scored a career-high five touchdowns, rushing for a career-best four scores and a season-high 153 yards on 22 carries and catching four passes, including a 12-yard touchdown, for 58 yards.
“We ran the ball great two weeks ago now, but that’s just one game,” Burrow said. “So we got to build on that. The coaching staff is really excited about the plan, so am I and Joe’s looking to build on that momentum from that week.”
Burrow stands at 9,834 career passing yards through 35 regular-season games and can become the fourth-fastest in NFL history to reach 10,000 if he throws for at least 166 Sunday.
The Steelers (3-6) started Mitch Trubisky at quarterback in Week 1, but amid a four-game losing streak after that season opener they moved on to first-round selection Kenny Pickett. The rookie had one of his best performances of the season in last week’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints by completing 18 of 30 passes for 199 yards and rushing for 51 yards and a touchdown.
So far Pickett is completing 66.7 percent of his passes but has just two touchdowns against eight interceptions. He said that red-zone offense is one particular area where he must improve.
“We’re not where we need to be,” Pickett said, per the team website. “Obviously, there’s less grass, so it’s tighter windows, the timing, everything is faster. I’ve got to meet the guys at certain spots with the ball and they’ve got to get there on time. The game changes when you get down there. The calls change. The system changes. There are definitely things we need to get better at.”
Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick did not practice Wednesday after having an appendectomy last Saturday. Coincidentally, Burrow was still recovering from an August appendectomy when he faced Pittsburgh in Week 1.
Asked if he had any advice for Fitzpatrick during his recovery, Burrow quipped, “Maybe wait just an extra week.”
Pittsburgh was also without cornerback Akhello Witherspoon (hamstring), linebacker Marcus Allen (illness), linebacker Devin Bush (knee), defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (knee) and offensive linemen Kevin Doston (hip) and Trent Scott (back) Wednesday. But star edge rusher T.J. Watt (pectoral) and starting running back Najee Harris (knee) were full participants.
Cincinnati would like to have star receiver Ja’Marr Chase back this week from a hip injury, but he did not practice Wednesday, nor did safety Dax Hill (shoulder) or defensive tackle Josh Tupou (calf). Coach Zac Taylor said Tupou won’t play this week.
Running back Chris Evans (knee) and cornerback Tre Flowers (hamstring) were limited participants in practice while corner Mike Hilton (finger) practiced in full.
–Field Level Media