So let’s talk about the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers, on the whole, got a great night of work from their playmakers on offense. And that was basically without their greatest and most significant playmaker in Antonio Brown, who likely will not be seen again until the postseason.
On the night, for example, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed passes to a season-high eight different targets, the only players dressed who did not catch a pass who were eligible to catch one being Roosevelt Nix, James Conner, Fitzgerald Toussaint…and Jerald Hawkins.
Eli Rogers may have only caught one pass during the game, but it was a big one. The Steelers were unable to move far on their opening drive, and then the defense quickly gave up a touchdown to the Patriots. But the offense responded, and that included the third-year receiver pulling in an 18-yard touchdown.
While the bulk of his quality work came on the ground, to the tune of 117 rushing yards on 24 carries, plus a rushing touchdown, Le’Veon Bell also had his contributions through the air. He even opened the game with a 17-yard reception, the first of five on the night for 48 yards, though all of it came in the first half.
Even Xavier Grimble, who has five catches in total on the season, did a great job of selling the block on a key third-down play late, running out of 22 personnel, before getting open for Roethlisberger to find him for an eight-yard reception and set up a first and goal.
And then there were the two big guns, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant, both of whom had strong games as receivers. With Brown limited to just two receptions for 24 yards before he suffered a torn calf muscle while attempting to reel in a touchdown pass, that effort was necessary.
Smith-Schuster, who missed the last game due to a suspension and then entered this game questionable with a hamstring injury, recorded his second 100-yard game of the season, thanks primarily to one of the last plays of the game, a 69-yard catch-and-run that set up the would-be game-winning touchdown-that-wasn’t.
Bryant, meanwhile, had four receptions, three of them being big ones. One of them converted on third down, while another went for 39 yards on a stellar grab from a long ball that was a bit too long. Finally, his four-yard touchdown pass on a fade from Roethlisberger making a one-handed catch over his shoulder was a true highlight.
Finally, let’s not forget about Jesse James, who after a career game the week before very nearly delivered the Steelers to victory over their greatest nemesis. His valiant effort to score was stymied only by a poorly-conceived rule, wiping out a 10-yard go-ahead score with half a minute remaining.