The Pittsburgh Steelers put up a valiant effort this afternoon in the loss to the Baltimore Ravens, but ultimately, it was their own mistakes that proved to be their undoing, and unfortunately, the most direct and damning was an overtime fumble by JuJu Smith-Schuster, who entered the game questionable to play with a toe injury.
Earlier in the game, Smith-Shuster scored on a 35-yard catch-and-run pass from Mason Rudolph, fending off a punch-out attempt by Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey at the left sideline before running into the end zone.
He couldn’t avoid the punch on his overtime reception, the former first-round pick this time successfully punching the ball out. It bounced in-bounds for some time, backward from the direction of the play, before a Ravens player finally fell on it for the recovery.
The score was 23-23 at the time with the defense having stopped the Ravens on the opening drive of overtime, the Steelers feeling good about their chances at the time. The fumble gave Baltimore the football at the 37-yard line, and after a few short gains, Justin Tucker finished them off from 46 yards out. It was his fourth field goal of the afternoon, making him 25-for-26 all-time at Heinz Field.
As for Smith-Schuster, he led all players with seven receptions for 75 yards on the day, including his touchdown reception, his second score of the season. He has 25 receptions for 333 yards and two touchdowns now.
But he also has two huge fumbles in the fourth quarter or overtime over the span of his last seven games, going back to the Week 16 loss to the New Orleans Saints in which his lost fumble on their final offensive possession ‘fumbled the playoffs away’, as Antonio Brown would later say.
As the Steelers adjust to a new reality in 2019 without Ben Roethlisberger, Smith-Schuster is starting to develop into that go-to guy that Rudolph and Devlin Hodges will need going forward; it goes without saying, however, that putting the ball on the ground will not help.
Earlier in the year, it was James Conner with a big late fumble that proved to be the final turning point in yet another loss. Outside of the opening loss to the New England Patriots, which was a blowout, the Steelers have been close and competitive over the course of the past four weeks, yet have just one win to show for it.
Especially in light of the quarterback situation, it’s all the more imperative that their stars on offense, like Smith-Schuster, play at the top of their game, and eliminate the unforced errors. It’s hard enough to win at full strength with unforced errors, but the margins become virtually non-existent with one arm tied behind your back, and an Apple Watch on your wrist.