You can be assured that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ victory Sunday over the Jacksonville Jaguars was an important, even necessary win for most of the roster. For many, Sunday’s victory meant payback for the embarrassing loss that the Jaguars delivered last January, knocking the Steelers out of the playoffs in front of their home crowd. For Steelers’ wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, that is a game he would like to forget and he did a fine job erasing that performance from the memory of many by providing one of his best games of his young career Sunday afternoon.
It was eleven months ago that Smith-Schuster headed into the 2017 playoffs as the Steelers’ breakout rookie receiver, tallying over 900 receiving yards during the regular season. The post season would be a different story though as Smith-Schuster finished with just three catches for five yards against the Jaguars as his team was sent packing after being upset in the divisional round. Smith-Schuster’s most notable play from that game was not a catch but in fact a dropped ball. Down by seven and facing a 4th and 1, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s pass was dropped by the then rookie receiver as cornerback A.J. Bouye was right on his heels.
For a large portion of Sunday’s game, what looked to be an opportunity for revenge was looking more like another comical Jaguars’ beatdown of the black and gold team as Jacksonville lead 16-6 with just minutes remaining.
But Smith-Schuster and his quarterback had other ideas in mind. The Steelers scored two touchdowns in the game’s final three minutes to pull off an unbelievable comeback and stun the Jaguars 20-16. Smith-Schuster was as instrumental in that as anyone, finishing with eight receptions for 104 yards. But consider this, on the Steelers’ final two drives, the sophomore receiver recorded four catches for 74 yards, including arguably two of the toughest catches of his career thus far.
Here’s the first catch, a great release off the line from the receiver and an even better throw from Roethlisberger. The incredible concentration, body control and focus help complete the trifecta of perfect route, throw and catch. Smith-Schuster is up against Jalen Ramsey, who had already picked off two passes from Roethlisberger but the quarterback puts the football in a position where only his receiver can catch it and Smith-Schuster rewards him with an amazing catch. Four plays late and the Steelers score their first touchdown, closing the gap on the Jaguars’ lead at 16-13.
The only thing better than one scoop of ice cream is of course, two scoops of ice cream. Smith-Schuster doubles down on his highlight worthy catches on the Steelers’ final drive. While his first catch was against Ramsey, he is now up against Bouye and unlike their meeting 11 months prior, he hangs on and makes an unbelievable acrobatic catch. While it is hard to tell on the broadcast angle, it looks like he is able to fool Bouye with a stop and go double move, giving him the separation to high-point the football uncontested and come down with the catch.
Just 11 months earlier, the likes of Ramsey and Bouye were able to bully the Steelers’ receivers and laugh at the mistakes of Roethlisberger. Now months later, the tables have turned as Smith-Schuster not only beat one of the best young cornerbacks in the game off the line in Ramsey but he was able to fool and ridicule Bouye on a nifty double move.
Smith-Schuster arrived and left the stadium wearing a cheetah-print suit and for good reason. On Sunday, the wide receiver and his Steelers declared themselves kings of the jungle after slaying the mighty Jaguars.