The Pittsburgh Steelers as a team had a horrendous day, dropping to 6-5 on the season as four of the AFC’s 5-5 teams heading into the day also climbed to that vaunted record. Entering the day, Pittsburgh was in pole position for the top Wildcard spot, but they leave sitting in the eighth seed slot.
Still, that should not be cause to overlook the absolutely spectacular, career game that we just saw from third-year wide receiver Markus Wheaton, who was badly in need of not just a big showing, but the opportunity for one.
The former third-round draft pick set new career-high marks with nine receptions and 201 receiving yards. It was not only his first 200-yard receiving game, but also the first time in his career that he has struck the triple-digit plateau.
Wheaton’s previous career-best was six receptions, which came in the 2014 season opener. In that same game, he also set a career high in receiving yards with 97. Up to today, that was the best all-around game of his career.
Wheaton sealed things off with a 69-yard touchdown pass, making himself available over the top with Ben Roethlisberger scrambling to his right and hitting a spectacular off-balance throw on the run.
Five of Wheaton’s nine receptions went for at least 15 yards. Three went for explosive plays, while a fourth came up just a yard shy of the 20-yard mark. He also had two plays of at least 40 yards, adding a 41-yard reception to his 69-yard touchdown.
I wrote during the bye week that Wheaton was in need of a game like this, simply to get the targets, which had been scarce over the course of the previous five weeks. During that span, he totaled just seven receptions for 45 yards, including a one-reception game for minus-two yards.
The starting slot receiver entered the game with 16 receptions, 273 yards, and one touchdown, averaging 17.1 yards per reception in 10 games. After averaging 22.3 yards per reception today, his number look a lot better.
Wheaton now has 25 receptions on the year to go along with 474 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 19 yards per reception, developing as a big-play threat in his third season. He now has six receptions for explosive yardage on the season, or just about a quarter of his total receptions. 11 of his receptions have gone for over 15 yards.
With his big game today, the third-year pro vaults himself right back into the public consciousness, and in the offense’s game plan, knowing that they have three big-play type receivers available to them.
Todd Haley spoke during the bye week about Wheaton, saying that what he has seen from him are the signs of a true professional, even if the production did not support the idea. He also said that the way he responds to the adversity he has faced this year will come to define him. Could this be his defining game?