PITTSBURGH — Najee Harris went back to the bench after Pat Freiermuth‘s overtime fumble and gathered himself for the Steelers‘ next offensive drive. Only problem: There wouldn’t be another Pittsburgh possession.
The Detroit Lions (0-8-1) tried to pull off a series of laterals in a last-ditch effort to break the 16-16 tie in the final seconds Sunday, but D’Andre Swift was pushed out of bounds to end the game in the NFL’s first tie since Week 3 of the 2020 season.
Still, the rookie running back didn’t realize it was over until a teammate told him.
“I didn’t even know you could tie in the NFL,” Harris said. “In my mind, I was sitting on the bench saying, ‘I’ve got another quarter to go.’ But someone came to me and said, ‘That’s it.’ I’ve never had a tie in my life before.”
Harris wasn’t the only one who wasn’t expecting the abrupt, unsatisfying ending.
“It’s nuts,” Lions second-year running back Godwin Igwebuike said. “I’m back there like, ‘Yo, how many overtimes can we do?’ And they’re like, ‘Three’ … I hear, ‘Two, one,’ and we were like, ‘Yo, whatever’s going on, we’re about to just put our all into it.'”
With the tie, the Lions avoided an 0-17 season, but they’re still on a 13-game winless streak that dates back to last season.
“I’m in this twilight zone,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “I don’t know what this is, really, and I’m sure I’ve been in a tie before as a player, but for some reason I can’t remember that, if it was.”
“Ties suck,” Steelers defensive captain Cam Heyward added. “I know it’s a tie, but if it’s not a win, I don’t think you can really hang your hat on that.”
The final 10-minute period was a comedy of errors for both teams.
The Lions won the coin toss and opted to receive, needing just a touchdown to win it. Instead, the Steelers (5-3-1) got the ball back in four plays, sealed by a 9-yard Heyward sack. Then, on the ensuing possession, quarterback Mason Rudolph — starting in place of Ben Roethlisberger — completed a 19-yard pass to Diontae Johnson on the second play, but Johnson fumbled it and the Lions recovered.
“I was just trying to make a play,” Johnson said. “Like what everybody else would do in that situation: Get the ball like that, you try to make a play for the team, get them in good field position. I didn’t see the guy coming behind me.”
It appeared Lions quarterback Jared Goff gave the ball right back to the Steelers on the next play with an interception by Minkah Fitzpatrick, but a defensive holding call against Devin Bush negated it. Instead, the possession ended with a missed 48-yard field goal by Ryan Santoso, elevated a day earlier when kicker Austin Seibert landed on injured reserve.
A high snap from center Kendrick Green to Rudolph on the second play of the next series doomed that drive, but the Lions did nothing with their next possession, either.
The Steelers got the ball back with 1 minute, 37 seconds remaining and managed to cross midfield. On first down from Detroit’s 39, Rudolph hit Freiermuth for a 1-yard gain, but safety Will Harris forced a fumble and linebacker Trey Flowers corralled the loose ball.
With Freiermuth’s fumble, the Steelers became the first team to lose multiple fumbles in a single overtime period since at least 2000, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The Steelers are also the 16th team to commit multiple turnovers in overtime since 1978.
The Lions couldn’t do anything on the final play, sealing the tie.
“A tie in the NFL always feels like a loss when you get to the locker room because you’re not adding one to the win column,” Steelers linebacker Joe Schobert said. “It’s a half-game. It might make a difference in the end. To let it slip away when you’re that close definitely hurts.”
ESPN’s Eric Woodyard contributed to this report.