Things were looking rosy about five minutes into Sunday’s game for the Pittsburgh Steelers. By that point, they had just completed a successful opening drive that saw quarterback Ben Roethlisberger connect with wide receiver Diontae Johnson for a 45-yard touchdown pass on third down. It was their first opening-drive touchdown in about a year.
But more than that, it was the 400th touchdown pass of Roethlisberger’s career, a major milestone that he was just the eighth player in NFL history to achieve. The rest of the game was a far cry from the highs of that moment, and will dampen that record, I’m sure, given that they went on to lose the game, but it is still a remarkable achievement that Johnson was happy to be a part of.
“Yeah, I realized that [it was Roethlisberger’s 400th touchdown pass] once I caught the ball”, the third-year receiver said earlier today after practice. “He came up to me and asked for the ball, and I was just joking with him. It’s a big moment for him, and for me as well, just to be able to go out there and catch his 400th touchdown”.
It may be the 400th of his career, but it is just his fourth of the 2021 season, through four games. He is on pace to throw just 17 touchdowns this year, good for one per game so far. That is clearly not enough for this current Steelers team to have success, which is why they are 1-3.
Still, if they can find more plays like that drive-capper to start the game, it could be the catalyst for an improved offense that can actually contribute positively. And if Johnson can keep making plays like that, it would certainly help, beating a quality cornerback in Jaire Alexander—though he was accused of pushing off a bit.
“It don’t matter who it is” that he beat on the play, though, Johnson said. “He’s a real good player, give credit to him, but at the end of the day, it don’t matter who’s in front of me. I’m still gonna make plays”.
In three games so far this season—he missed one due to a knee injury—he has caught 23 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns. He has caught 18 passes for 197 yards in just the past two games in which he has played, along with the 45-yard score. He is the only player on the team with multiple receiving touchdowns at the moment.
A third-round pick in 2019, Johnson has caught 170 passes so far in 34 games played, for 1836 yards and 14 touchdowns. He led the team in receiving yards in 2020 with 923 yards on 88 receptions, with seven touchdowns. While very early, he is currently on pace to catch 123 passes for 1243 yards with 11 touchdowns this season.