If there was one thing that I think the majority of Pittsburgh Steelers fans were hoping to see today, it probably would be a flash of the ‘old’ Martavis Bryant, the third-year wide receiver coming off a year-long suspension who was held to just two catches for under 20 yards in the season opener.
Not so this afternoon against a Vikings secondary stocked with former first-round draft picks. While he only had three receptions on the day, two of them went for 20 yards or more, and that included his first touchdown since returning from suspension, a 27-yard catch and run.
His 91 receiving yards were primarily gained on one 51-yard downfield strike, a beautifully-placed ball by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who knew that he had a free play on his hands with a Vikings defender jumping offside. It was just one of a number of downfield targets for Roethlisberger on the day.
Three of those targets went to Bryant, but while only one was complete—for 51 yards, mind you—a second drew a defensive pass interference penalty that generated 49 yards. Including a seven-yard reverse run, he was responsible for 147 total yards on the day via reception, carry, and penalty.
Officially, Bryant caught three of four targets on the day, the lone incompletion being on a long ball. Last week, he caught only two of six official targets, and that included a dropped pass. He clearly looked like he was much more into the game and adjusted to the speed.
He told reporters late last week that he was a bit behind when it comes to being prepared for facing regular season NFL competition, but that the first week back on the field gave him the taste needed and he felt that he would be fine heading into the game. He certainly proved himself to be correct.
His compatriot, Antonio Brown, did not have even half the day that he did in the opener, but his ‘bad day’ of five catches for 62 yards is simply a testament to what he is able to do on a regular basis that most wide receivers wish they could.
As for Sammie Coates’ replacement, JuJu Smith-Schuster, he got the first touches of his career, finishing the game with three receptions for 19 yards, which included a shovel pass near the goal line on third down that went for a four-yard touchdown.
All four of the Steelers’ primary wide receiver caught at least three passes on the day and had over 40 yards or a touchdown, which is not bad at all. But I think it was clear in this game the difference that a Martavis Bryant who is up to full speed makes.