Who is this man who has been consistently making big-time plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers since the bye week, and what have you done with James Washington? Not that I care, because you can keep him. We want this new guy.
The new boss, of course, is the same as the old boss. Washington is simply now in-rhythm with the offense, whether it was Mason Rudolph two-five weeks ago or, more recently, Devlin Hodges. That’s part of the natural maturation expected of second-year players, but he is really showing that up in a major way over the past month or so.
He had perhaps the biggest game of his career yesterday afternoon against the Cleveland Browns, during which he put up his first 100-yard game in his career. On just four targets, he caught all four passes in his direction for 111 yards and a touchdown, his second in as many weeks, and his third on the year.
That included a nifty 30-yard score to tie the game at the end of the first half, made all the more spectacular because of the superb level of concentration that he put on display in doing so while fighting through two separate instances of defensive pass interference, which was flagged, but declined, since he made the play anyway.
He said after the game of his big day, “all week, and before this, Coach would always say, ‘whenever your number’s called, you never know how many opportunities you’re gonna get, so make the ones that you get. What better game to go out there and do that?”.
He has saved his best for when the Steelers have needed him most. In the two games that JuJu Smith-Schuster has missed over the past two games, Washington, last year’s 60th-overall pick, has caught seven passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns. He has four explosive plays in that span, including a big 79-yard catch-and run touchdown that provided a spark to the offense last week.
The low-key country boy has been an energy bringer for the offense over the course of the past several games, making the plays that the Steelers saw on his college tape and now increasingly more consistently showing that translate inside of NLF stadiums.
It’s a big and crucial development for the offense, not just for this season, but for the future, as he figures to continue to be a vital cog in this machine, with or without Smith-Schuster, and complemented by Diontae Johnson and whoever else may be aboard in any given year.