JuJu Smith-Schuster was left in tears on the bench in the closing moments of the game earlier today when his fumble on a reception in the final moments of the game that put them into field goal range cost the Pittsburgh Steelers the opportunity to author a much-needed comeback.
In a world that is very much oriented toward ‘what have you done for me lately’, the last thing the second-year wide receiver has done was the end the Steelers’ chances of winning the most important game of the year, which will make it very difficult for them to reach the postseason for a fifth consecutive year.
But don’t let that overshadow the season that he has had. Or the game that he had. Coming into this evening’s game against the New Orleans Saints nursing a groin injury, he merely caught 11 of 15 targets for 115 yards, his eighth 100-yard game of the season.
He now has 106 receptions on the year for 1389 yards and six touchdowns, with one game left to play. While you would like to see him catch a few more touchdowns, the reality is that the Steelers have thrown more touchdown passes than ever before in franchise history this year. When 15 of them go to Antonio Brown, the numbers start to thin.
Smith-Schuster has come up in big moments time and time again this year, and even in this game. In many ways, he’s become the Steelers’ number one receiver because he is often the player that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger first turns to when he gets into a jam.
This was the first fumble of any kind in his career. It came at about the worst possible moment, but it was in a moment in which he was trying to do his best to make a play. It proved to be extremely costly and may well result in the team missing the playoffs. But they wouldn’t have been in position to compete for the playoffs without him and his performance in 2018.
Believe me, nobody is going to take this harder than the 22-year-old, who has played with a veteran’s approach since he first stepped onto the field in Pittsburgh. He knows how critical this moment was for him and for the team, but he doesn’t have the personality that is going to let it eat at him. if anything, he’ll use it as fuel to try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
The Saints are one of the top defenses in the league, and that includes an above average ability to strip the ball out of the hands. They did that twice tonight, also getting to Stevan Ridley. To be clear, they made a play while Smith-Schuster was in a vulnerable position.
That doesn’t justify or excuse the fumble, but it’s part of the conversation. Steeler Nation doesn’t need to be down on the young man right now for one moment in hundreds. He’s going to have that covered all on his own.