For the second time in as many weeks, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, looking for something to get the offense going, turned to his old reliable in the second half, beginning to feed fourth-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who had come into that stretch with his numbers and opportunities wavering from game to game.
It feels as though every time fans or the media try to put him on the back burner, things begin to turn back to him when the offense needs plays to be made. And he was particularly dominant on the final play of the third quarter that drew the Steelers back into a one-possession deficit, highlighted by a 31-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the fourth quarter that featured him wrestling his way into the end zone inside the five.
At that point in the game, Smith-Schuster had six receptions on six targets for 93 yards and the touchdown. He went 4-for-4 on that drive for 80 yards, including three receptions of 20-plus yards. The 93 yards had already marked a season-high in yardage for a single game, but was a continuation of previous weeks.
Last week, Smith-Schuster caught seven passes on eight targets for 67 yards, and many of those receptions came in critical moments, all in the second half, converting third downs, even when thrown behind the sticks. The previous week, he had season highs across the board with nine receptions on 14 targets for 85 yards.
His touchdown reception today, however, was just his fourth of the season and his first since week three against the Houston Texans. He had, instead, been busy during that stretch making the difficult plays that extend drives and help set up the touchdowns for others.
Of course, it would have been nice if the offense were able to get a little more burn out of him in the fourth quarter. While they did actually score twice more over the final 14 minutes, Smith-Schuster was only targeted once without making the catch, so he finished with the stat line cited above, plus one target.
They had three total possessions in the fourth quarter that began in the fourth quarter. They got a field goal on the first, a touchdown on the second, and turned the ball over on downs trying to close out the game on their final possession, which consisted entirely of running plays.
But here’s the thing. There is no doubt that that ‘JuJu drive’ at the end of the third quarter and into the fourth is the swing of momentum that the Steelers needed today. Four huge catches, three explosive plays, with a finish on the touchdown that brought them to within 19-15 with plenty of time left. He is by far the most reliable option that they have on a per-target ratio, regardless of how explosive others might threaten to be.