Over the course of the regular season, we have certainly seen the ups and downs of a pretty fledgling, and young, wide receiver group, which was build, in part, on the fly over the course of time due to injuries and suspensions. The up moments were certainly rewarding, and encouraging. But the downs—which we saw quite a bit tonight—do show how much more room there is to grow.
Most of the skill position players on offense, it would be fair to say, had a rough night for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but perhaps the biggest goat of the group, even more than Cobi Hamilton, was second-year wide receiver Eli Rogers, who of course was effectively in his first season because he was placed on injured reserve before the Steelers even reached the preseason in his rookie year in 2015.
While he did finish the game tied for the team lead with seven receptions in the game and got 66 yards on those receptions, it was his fifth reception toward the end of the third quarter that proved to be extremely costly, and was perhaps the death knell for the Steelers.
The Patriots at that time had just scored another touchdowns to make it 27-9, taking an 18-point lead, when the Steelers took over at the 25-yard line following a touchback looking to cut into that lead heading into the fourth quarter.
On the first play of the series, however, Ben Roethlisberger hit Rogers over the middle on a short pass for five yards, following which he had the Patriots’ linebacker in coverage on him knock the ball loose, and New England recovered on the Steelers’ 28-yard line.
The Patriots were able to capitalize fairly quickly from there, scoring on a four-play drive, including two passes to Julian Edelman, one for 18 yards, and one for 10 yards for the score. That made it a 33-9 game, a 24-point deficit, which suddenly felt significantly more insurmountable than just a couple of minutes earlier.
That is not to disparage his total body of work. His first reception of the game went for 16 yards and converted on third and 10 for just the Steelers’ second first down of the game on their third drive.
He caught two more passes on that game drive, including a reception of nine yards that moved the chains on second and nine, and then a gain of eight on first and 10 that put the ball inside the 20-yard line. That was the only possession of the game in which Pittsburgh managed to capitalize in the end zone.
For an undrafted player who never played a snap even in the preseason prior to this season, Rogers really showed himself to be something to build on in the future. He will likely remain the Steelers’ slot receiver next year, and we should expect him to continue to grow with more chemistry and more experience. But his first fumble of the year really came at a horrible time.