One of the few bright spots in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Wildcard round loss to the Baltimore Ravens last Saturday was rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant, whose continued development over the course of the past three months has been both steady and productive.
Inactive for the first six games of the year, Bryant immediately contributed when he did finally get on the field, scoring six touchdowns in his first four games, and adding another two in his remaining six. His 26 receptions for 549 receiving yards and eight touchdowns was more than could have been expected. That he led the league in yards per reception at 21.1 didn’t hurt either.
In his first taste of playoff football, Bryant continued on his upward trajectory, adding five more receptions for 61 yards and a six-yard touchdown reception. He even added in a six-yard carry for good measure. As he continues to grow into the offense, he will only become a more consistent player.
Bryant’s first target in the playoff loss came on the second drive, after the Steelers lost two yards on the ground on first down and were set behind the chains. On second and 12, Ben Roethlisberger threw a screen to the tall receiver from out of the slot position as he turned it to the corner, not greatly aided by his blockers, to pick up seven yards.
Roethlisberger immediately went back to him on the following play, on third and five. Covered by Lardarius Webb just outside the numbers on the right side, Bryant initially won the outside corner, leaving the corner trailing, but came back for the ball on a back shoulder pass that gathered up 22 yards into the red zone.
Late in the first half, with the Steelers looking to score before halftime, Roethlisberger looked to his rookie receiver early on the drive from the 29-yard line. Settling outside the numbers facing off coverage, Bryant curled inside 15 yards down the field, but worked back to the sideline as Roethlisberger improvised, and he found Bryant for a 14-yard pickup.
It was midway through the third quarter that the Steelers were robbed of a big play opportunity when Bryant and Webb got their feet tangled with one another, spilling to the grass on what otherwise looked to be a golden opportunity for a splash play. The officials saw no fault, however, and the Steelers were stuck with third and eight.
One play after Antonio Brown nearly scored on a 44-yard reception—and following a false start—Bryant recorded the team’s only touchdown of the day, beating Webb on a fade from six yards out, using his size while doing so. He may have gotten away with a bit of a push, which is something he’ll have to wean himself off of in time. He was flagged for offensive pass interference later in the game. He also nearly had himself a second touchdown pass late, but the safety came over to make sure that he wouldn’t hold on to the ball.