The Pittsburgh Steelers just wrapped up their regular season, and they did so in fittingly climactic fashion in a rather anti-climactic game. By defeating the Cleveland Browns, they simply achieved an 11-win season versus a 10-win season. But it was a great opportunity for several young players to contribute, and they did.
The Steelers came out on top with a 27-24 score, and half of their points came via a pair of rookie or first-year wide receivers who started the season on the practice squad. Demarcus Ayers scored the initial go-ahead touchdown on an 11-yard crossing route, his first touchdown of his career.
Late in overtime, right after Ayers converting on fourth and two on another crossing route, Landry Jones attacked down the field, finding Cobi Hamilton streaking toward the back left corner of the end zone for the 26-yard walk-off score. Because that pass ended the game, the extra-point attempt was not tried.
In all, Hamilton and Ayers combined to contribute eight receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns, figuring to be two players who can potentially be put into significant situations to contribute at some point during the postseason, in preparation for which the Steelers rested more than a third of their starting offense.
Hamilton also caught yet another pass on third and long on the start of that game-winning drive in overtime, which seems to be what the majority of his receptions have been—combat catches that converted on third down.
The Steelers started the season with Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Eli Rogers as their receiving corps, and it was a strong group, on paper. But Wheaton hardly contributed this year and was put on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.
Coates played a major role in the first five games, gaining over 400 receiving yards with a pair of touchdowns, but he injured his hand in that game, and has not played much on offense since then, struggling to contribute. As for Heyward-Bey, this was the first game in about half a season that he played on offense.
Because of those injuries, the Steelers have had to rely upon their practice squad to find contributions from the wide receiver group. Hamilton was called for the sixth game of the season against the Dolphins, and he caught two passes for 36 yards, including a touchdown, on their final drive in that game.
While he has caught at least one pass in all but one game since then, today was his biggest game, with his five receptions being two more than he has caught in any other game, and his 54 yards are 15 more than he ever had. He also had his second score.
As for the rookie seventh-round pick, Ayers, he played most of the game and added four receptions to 44 yards and a touchdown, after having one reception for nine yards in his NFL debut a week ago. He did drop a pass down the field, but he also drew a pass interference penalty for the second game in a row.
The Steelers have shown just how deep their receiving group is this year with Hamilton and Ayers making significant contributions. And I went this whole article without mentioning Martavis Bryant.