The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2017 season ended not only prematurely, but also bitterly, suffering an early postseason exit after falling to the Jacksonville Jaguars at home in the Divisional Round by a score of 45-42. The wounds are still fresh, but it’s time to relive the 2017 season that was, starting from the beginning.
Chapter XII – JuJu Breaks Out As Secondary Shows Cracks In Detroit
The Detroit Lions game just before the bye week was an important one in telling the story of the Steelers’ 2017 season, as it touched on many of the key ideas that would play out over the second half of the year.
It was the breakout game of sorts for their rookie wide receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster, but it was also the game that showed much of what we saw from the secondary in the early portions of the season was the exception rather than the norm. It was also the crescendo for a season-long drama.
A big reason why Smith-Schuster was afforded such a big opportunity in the game in question is because his teammate, Martavis Bryant, not only thought he was better than him, but felt it was important to tell random people on the internet that. He ended up getting himself benched for the game.
Cue JuJu, who caught seven passed for 193 yards and a touchdown, including a critical 97-yard touchdown, which was the longest play from scrimmage in Steelers history. It came on third and nine, and obviously deep in their own territory, with the Lions looking to regain some momentum. It was just 13-12 at the time, a fragile lead only just earlier secured by a Chris Boswell field goal.
The rookie also recorded a 41-yard reception on the first play of the game and had a number of other key catches, even if he did have one drop. It made Antonio Brown’s five-catch, 70-yard day seem ho-hum, though in fairness, by his standards, it was.
While the Steelers’ offense labored for much of their work, heading toward 20 points, the Lions offense frequently move effortless down the field, putting up close to 500 yards of total offense, including over 400 yards through the air.
The secondary up to that point was leading the league in most categories, but Matthew Stafford’s performance against them was a glass of cold water to the face. Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, and T.J. Jones, even Eric Ebron came up with big plays throughout the game.
Except when it mattered most. The defense held its own in the red zone, for whatever reason, preventing them from scoring a touchdown on all four trips inside the 20-yard line, which included two stops that resulted in turnovers on downs.
Looking back on this game in particular, it’s striking how well it would end up telling the story of the rest of the season, with key departures. The red zone defense was awful for much of the year, this being the lone exception.