Running back Najee Harris entered tonight’s game with 984 rushing yards on the season during his rookie year for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He needed 16 to reach 1000 yards. He needed 72 to set a new team record for the most rushing yards for a rookie.
He did that and more, and surpassed the mark in spectacular fashion early in the third quarter, recording his longest rush of the season, a 30-yard run during which he put Cleveland Browns defensive back M.J. Stewart on his back with a soul-snatching stiff-arm. That one run put him over the 1055-yard mark of Franco Harris set in 1972, and over 100 yards for the game.
Franco, of course, recorded over 1000 rushing yards during a 14-game season—the NFL would not expand to a 16-game schedule for a few more years. He did it on just 188 rushing attempts, with 10 rushing touchdowns, and 11 total touchdowns, which remains a team rookie record tied by Chase Claypool last year.
Najee Harris’ 1000 yards came with much more resistance. Asked about being on the cusp of hitting the mark this past week leading up to the game, he called it an ‘ugly’ 1000 yards, and he’s certainly right about that, though tonight’s game was probably the most beautiful the run game has looked all season.
He was up to 105 rushing yards at the end of the Steelers’ first drive of the second half, and on just 16 carries, averaging 6.6 yards per attempt. It marked just his third 100-yard rushing game of the year, following a 122-yard effort in week five against the Broncos and 105 yards in the tie against the Lions in week 10.
He did have two 90-plus-yard games in the three weeks leading into tonight’s game, averaging 4.7 yards per carry or better in those two games. In other words, there had been some positive signs in recent weeks.
The biggest difference in this game, however, was a change at center, with injured rookie Kendrick Green dressed but not playing. J.C. Hassenauer started in his place, and the interior offensive line has had one of its best games—even if that isn’t saying much.
Harris has 123 yards from scrimmage at this point in the game, with more to come with 20 minutes left to play. He already has the record for the most yards from scrimmage. It would take some doing, but he could also set the record for the most all-purpose yards (including return yards) with a strong finish over the final 80 minutes of the year.