Diontae Johnson was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week this week after helping out the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 23-17 victory with an 85-yard punt return touchdown in the first quarter to get things started off on the right foot. But that wasn’t all he did. He also made big plays both as a receiver and as a runner, putting up a total of 163 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.
While head coach Mike Tomlin might have high ambitions for what he would consider a breakout game—he rejected the classification for James Washington’s 111-yard, one-touchdown game the week before—there are those who would award it to Johnson for his level of play, even beyond what his statistics show, including a fantastic catch-and-run for what should have been a minimal gain on a screen pass.
Said second-year running back Jaylen Samuels, “I knew it was coming”, of a performance like what we saw on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. “I knew he had it in him since he got here. For him to have a breakout game against this team on the road was big. We needed a spark, and he gave it to us”.
The game came off the heels of a string of uninspiring performances as a receiver for the 2019 third-round pick out of Toledo. He had gotten off to a pretty hot start early in the year, quickly emerging to fill the void Donte Moncrief left behind, but though he still managed to catch a pass in every game, his contributions were increasingly less significant.
In all, Johnson totaled 60 yards on six receptions from eight targets, a total that doesn’t look half impressive on the stat sheet as it does on film. He also recorded a run of 16 yards (a week after having a 17-yard run—he has 41 yards on four attempts on the season) in addition to 87 yards on two punt returns, plus the return score and a receiving score of two yards on a tight-angled throw at the front left pylon.
“Diontae made a lot of great plays for us,”, said Samuels, who had a great view of his punt return score as one of the primary blockers out in front of the play. “The touchdown that he had, the punt return, the catch. He made plays all over the field”.
The Steelers have needed these big performances over the past three weeks from Washington and now Johnson in JuJu Smith-Schuster’s absence, as the 2018 Pro Bowler has missed each of the past three games. He was able to participate fully in practice yesterday, but there is still no guarantee he will play in a big Sunday night matchup against the Buffalo Bills.