As far as JuJu Smith-Schuster is concerned, he might as well have not even dressed on Sunday. While the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver did make two first-down catches, including a significant third-down conversion, he failed to hold on to two other targets, including a fourth-and-seven play that cemented the loss to the New York Jets.
The 23-year old was emotional after the game, taking the blame for the loss squarely on his shoulders for failing to make that catch with under a minute to go and trailing by six points. He noted that it’s not the first time he’s let people down, referring to two fumbles he’s had in the past year, and described it as the worst feeling in the world.
Head coach Mike Tomlin had a different attitude toward his return after missing the past four games. “It was good to have him back. It was a good place to build from”, he told reporters yesterday during his pre-game press conference for the finale against the Baltimore Ravens. “Our windshield is bigger than our rearview mirror. Look forward to him preparing this week and providing a winning performance and being a part of it this week”.
The windshield comment would appear to allude to the pass at the end of the game, understanding that it’s just one play and that they must put it behind them—especially Smith-Schuster himself. He can’t afford to allow that feeling to fester, but simply move on and focus on making the next catch, rather than dwelling on the last one.
All in all, of course, this is far from the season he was expecting to have. He is likely to finish the year with fewer than 50 receptions, now at 40, and is only at 546 yards, with three touchdowns. This is his encore to a Pro Bowl year in which he caught 111 passes for 1426 yards. That is the highest yardage total in team history by anyone not named Antonio Brown, and the second-highest reception total.
The past month or so has been rough for the young man, particularly when reflecting upon the media (and social media) scrutiny he has undergone over the course of his injury, with fans taking umbrage to his public appearances while nursing a knee injury.
It would probably do him a lot of good to finish the year with a good game on Sunday against the Ravens, even if it doesn’t translate to the Steelers advancing to the postseason. It’s not as though they’re not going to need him in 2020, no matter how disappointing 2019 has been.