December 1, 2023

CLEVELAND — Sitting in front of his locker in Cleveland Browns Stadium, a despondent Najee Harris expressed frustration about his performance and the Steelers‘ offensive inconsistencies in the wake of a 13-10 loss to the Browns.

“There’s just a lot of stuff that just goes around that you guys don’t see,” he said. “I guess I’m trying to say it’s just, I’m just at a point where I’m just tired of this s—.”

Harris’ tone was a shift to the rhetoric he used earlier in the season when he defended the playcalling and implored the offense to execute better. Since he arrived in Pittsburgh in 2021, Harris has frequently been sullen and silently reflective at his locker after games, but his postgame availability Sunday peeled back the curtain on the tensions bubbling behind the scenes of one of the league’s worst offenses.

Harris was asked whether the team’s 6-4 record was encouraging despite the offensive struggles.

“You could do two things,” he said. “You could look at the record and say, ‘OK, we’re still good right now.’ Or we could look at the record and be like, ‘If we keep playing this type of football, how long is that s— going to last?’ I look at it like, ‘How long that s— going to last?’ Y’all could look at it like it’s a good record, but I mean it’s the NFL. Winning how we did, it’s not going to get us nowhere.”

Harris said the problems are fixable, but he didn’t express confidence they would be fixed.

“Is it fixable? Yeah. Are we going to fix it? S—,” he said, shaking his head and trailing off. Harris had 12 carries for 35 yards in the loss, while fellow running back Jaylen Warren had 129 yards on nine carries, including a 74-yard touchdown to get the Steelers on the board seconds into the third quarter. Warren’s 21-yard gain followed by a 12-yard run got the Steelers within field goal range in the fourth quarter to tie the game.

“I couldn’t get things going,” Harris said. “It seems like every time I had got it, it seemed like the defense was playing it to … minimize my role. … I just couldn’t get anything going. Lucky we got Jaylen going, so that was good to have him play. They were sitting on screens for me. Even in the run game, they were just blowing stuff up.”

Though the Steelers averaged 12.1 yards per touch when Warren had the ball — compared with 2.3 when he didn’t — the team opted not to run the ball when it got it back with 1:42 to play. Instead, quarterback Kenny Pickett threw three quick incompletions, and the Steelers punted the ball back to the Browns on what would be their winning drive.

“In a two-minute situation like that, obviously you want to throw it,” said Pickett, confirming the Steelers weren’t considering running the ball. “There’s always times with the stoppage of the clock you could pop a draw, you could pop a run to start back up, but in that moment, no.”

Coach Mike Tomlin also stuck by the decisions of the afternoon, including giving Warren only nine carries.

“We don’t live in our fears,” he said. “We don’t second-guess, man. We live. And so, I stand by whatever decisions or play selections or ball distributions we had today.”

Asked if he was surprised the team didn’t run the ball with 1:38 to go, Harris looked around before softly answering.

“I can’t answer the question,” he said.

Steelers PR attempted to end Harris’ availability several times, but Harris, who normally spurns media requests, encouraged the questions. And though he answered questions for nearly five minutes as the locker room emptied, in some cases it was what Harris didn’t say that was just as illuminating.

Asked if it seemed like opposing defenses knew what was coming, Harris raised his eyebrows as he looked around. He shook his head and then answered.

“Yeah,” he said, drawing out the word, “in some situations, to be honest with you.”

He continued, when asked to elaborate: “I just don’t know what to do. I’m just stuck in this situation where I just don’t have an answer to it. And I don’t have an answer to it. All I can do is just ride this wave.”

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