It only took six games for him to finally get over the hump—actually five, since he sat out the second game of the season—but Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald finally got rid of the goose egg in the catch column while wearing the black and gold.
He came up with a big 26-yard reception with the Steelers backed up at their own one-yard line for his first reception as a Steeler since being acquired via trade in late August. He had been targeted five times previously before coming up with his first grab, though he did have one catch that was negated by an offensive penalty.
I had just written prior to the game about how the fifth-year tight end, a former second-round draft pick by the 49ers, had been learning to deal with the adversity of coming up short on his targets, having previously held a reputation for having drops, despite also balancing them out with big plays.
In the season opener, Ben Roethlisberger targeted the talented tight end on a slant on third down on a pass that he should have been able to secure for a conversion, but he had a defender jar the ball loose. When he returned two weeks later, he dropped a pass.
Last week, against the Jaguars, he was targeted twice, first on a busted play that Roethlisberger threw errantly on, and then on a longer pass with the quarterback under pressure, which resulted in an interception.
To start off the day, Roethlisberger targeted McDonald on a deep shot that was just ever so slightly overthrown, the tight end only able to get the tips of his fingers on one hand on the back end of the ball as he stretched out for it.
But the moment finally arrived midway through the second quarter, just after Kansas City pinned Pittsburgh down at the one. Roethlisberger dropped back to pass from deep in his own end zone, finding him on a corner route off play action down the field for the big gain.
“We had three guys going out”, Roethlisberger said of the play, “but [McDonald] was kind of the main one that we were gonna look for down the middle, with play action hopefully getting the guys to come up and then him running a cross”.
“I missed him earlier in the game deep down the sideline with the same sort of play”, the quarterback noted after the game. “Just missed him by a hair”. But he said “it was good to get him involved”, adding, “I think we’ll continue to get him involved more”.
Roethlisberger was asked if that play was big for McDonald personally after the rough start he has gotten off to catching the ball. While the question was framed for the answer, he did say it probably was big for him, adding, “I want him to know that I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him”.
“I know he takes it hard on himself when he doesn’t make a play, when he has a drop, whatever, but we need to get him more involved”, he went on. “He knows the offense now, we need to supplement him and [Jesse James] because they bring some different things to the table”.