Is the NFL rigged or, better, yet, scripted?
I know there are a lot of cynics who would absolutely agree with either sentiment listed above, but they'd likely be wrong in both instances.
Let’s just say that Saturday night’s contest between the Steelers and Raiders at Acrisure Stadium, a game that was specifically scheduled to commemorate perhaps the most famous play in NFL history—the Immaculate Reception—was a perfect storm (if you will) that saw several factors come together at once to bring about the type of matchup that Steelers and Raiders fans witnessed 50 years and one day earlier when these two titans of the 1970s slugged it out in a divisional round playoff game at old Three Rivers Stadium.
First of all, there was an actual storm that brought snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures to the Pittsburgh region one day prior to the Week 16 matchup.
Secondly, there was the young Steelers' offense, which had been holding back in the points department for quite some time. Like most of the 2022 campaign, Pittsburgh’s offense, piloted by rookie quarterback, Kenny Pickett, couldn’t capitalize on several scoring opportunities on Saturday, as two Chris Boswell missed field goals were sandwiched around a Pickett interception deep in Las Vegas territory on the opening offensive possession of the second half.
I guess Boswell was the third thing, as he did his best Roy Gerela impression by missing two of his four attempts—including one from 43 yards out and one from 52 yards out.
The fourth thing was the Raiders' new home—a dome in Las Vegas. Not that Oakland was ever all that cold and frigid when the Raiders resided there for many years, but those Silver and Black teams of the ‘70s could play anywhere and in any climate.
I’m not getting that vibe from these 2022 Las Vegas Raiders. Maybe that’s why Pittsburgh’s defense limited them to just 201 yards of total offense. This occurred despite Vegas having perhaps the better skill-position players in quarterback Derek Carr, receiver Davante Adams, running back Josh Jacobs, receiver Hunter Renfrow and tight end Darren Waller.
Everything added up to a low-scoring game that, much like the Immaculate Reception playoff classic, included just two touchdowns—one for the visitors to take an early lead and one by the home team to win the game in the final minute.
Unlike that legendary matchup from 50 years earlier, Saturday’s win wasn’t nearly as dramatic. No, Pittsburgh scored the winning points when Pickett hit rookie receiver, George Pickens, in the middle of the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown pass with 46 seconds to go in regulation.
The Raiders, who came into the night riding the wave of an immaculate ending of their own in a wild victory over New England six days earlier, had no magic left to send the half-full stadium of freezing Steelers fans home with coal in their stockings.
Instead, Cam Sutton intercepted Carr, the third for the defense on the night, and rookie Connor Heyward put the finishing touches on the win with a perfectly-executed jet sweep on third and long.
The evening had everything—including a Steelers running back named Harris (Najee). Sadly, the running back with the Harris surname everyone was preparing to see, Franco Harris, passed away just days earlier and couldn’t be there to enjoy his night. His No. 32 was retired at halftime to chants of “Franco,” while his wife and son embraced in the middle of the field.
But I think Franco would have been proud of the way these two teams slugged it out for 60 minutes on a night that reminded everyone what a football game was like between the Steelers and Raiders five decades earlier.