It’s almost hard not to consider any game against the New England Patriots the biggest game of the year regardless of the surrounding circumstances, but yesterday evening’s contest certainly was for the Pittsburgh Steelers, their season really hanging in the balance. They are far from out of the woods but have survived with control of their destiny intact.
And as predicted, their two biggest weapons on offense proved to be a pair of rookies: running back Jaylen Samuels and wide receiver James Washington, both of them having big breakout games for the team.
If you would have told me that in September that the Steelers would score 17 points against the Patriots and their biggest offensive pieces of the day would be Samuels and Washington, I would have bet good money on the result being a loss.
I’m still not sure how, but they won, and both of those young players played big roles in it happening. Samuels rushed for 142 yards on 19 carries with another 30 yards on two receptions. Washington finally caught his deep pass and finished the game with three receptions on four targets for 65 yards, including a 32-yard vertical catch.
No other player rushed for more than 16 yards, that being Stevan Ridley on three carries. James Conner, of course, was out for the game, the second in a row. No other player had more than 49 receiving yards—that being Antonio Brown, on four catches, with one touchdown.
“Even more than just running, I thought his whole game was awesome”, Ben Roethlisberger said of Samuels after the game. “He caught the ball, he ran. There is still some room for improvement, but there is for all of us. The way that he stepped up was special and James Washington as well. The plays that he made were just huge today for us and big plays for us”.
Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster combined for just eight catches for 89 yards and a touchdown. Usually, at least one of them posts a stat line like that or better on their own in any given week. But that’s what the Steelers got out of them today, almost entirely in the first half, though Smith-Schuster did almost have a big touchdown late that was just narrowly defended away.
With these big games from Samuels and Washington, the Steelers’ rookie class is looking better than it did coming in. Terrell Edmunds is going to have his growing pains as a starter before he’s ready, but Chukwuma Okorafor has held his own in limited opportunities. Add the two offensive skill players into the mix. Marcus Allen even got some playing time in one game and had his moments. Mason Rudolph of course sits on the bench for now.
After finally hitting on one of those deep passes, and with Samuels showing the skills to be a ball-carrier, there is reason for optimism about their continued contributions going forward. Sometimes all it takes is just getting that first big moment under your belt before you can pick up steam and just go to work.
They certainly did that against the Patriots, and hopefully they are just getting started.