The Pittsburgh Steelers played a game this evening with their season on the line. While they couldn’t play their way into the postseason all by themselves simply by winning, they had to take care of their own business in order to get anywhere.
And they decided to do that, apparently, without All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown, who dealt with a knee injury during the week and did not practice. We heard last night that he would have to improve in order to have a chance to play, but later reports seemed to indicate that he indeed felt okay.
Head Coach Mike Tomlin’s comments after the game also seemed to reflect that, when he was asked about Brown’s inactive status and his knee. “We just decided not to” dress him, he told reporters after the game. “We wanted to go with the healthiest of guys, and the guys that worked during the week. He didn’t play, Sean Davis didn’t play. James Conner was able to convince us here at the site”.
Davis and Vince Williams were two other starters who dealt with injuries during the week that ended up not playing. Conner was out for three games working his way back from a high ankle sprain, but was able to have a high level of participation in practice during the week.
“I just thought that under the circumstances that we were in, the healthiest, most prepared guys would give us good, quality play, and I think they did”, Tomlin went on, referring globally to all of the ‘next men up’. I can’t say enough about [Jordan Dangerfield], for example. Can’t say enough about what L.J. Fort did in place of Vince Williams. Appreciate the efforts of James Conner”.
And of course there was James Washington, the rookie starting in place of Brown. For the second time in three weeks, he ended up leading the team in receiving yards, catching three passes for 64 yards. That included another long ball, a 47-yard catch, which is the longest of his career to date.
Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Bengals did good job for the most part of holding JuJu Smith-Schuster in check, regularly double-teaming him. The second-year receiver was limited to five receptions on 10 targets, but he did get his seventh touchdown of the year on a bubble screen for 11 yards. He had a 14-yard catch overturned via challenge when it was ruled that the tackler prevented him from getting his second foot down.
Eli Rogers also played a prominent role in Brown’s absence, tied for the team lead with seven receptions, going for 57 yards. In all, Ben Roethlisberger completed 31 of 45 pass attempts without Brown for 287 yards with one touchdown and an interception. The offense only managed 16 points against one of the bottom-ranked defenses in the NFL.