It wasn’t perfect for James Pierre. For a young cornerback in the NFL, it rarely ever is. But Pierre made more significant plays (two) than negative ones (one). That won out in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ victory. It was Pierre who sealed it, picking Teddy Bridgewater off with 11 seconds left and Pittsburgh holding onto an eight-point lead.
After the game, Mike Tomlin praised Pierre’s toughness.
“Man he stayed in the fight,” Tomlin told reporters via the team’s YouTube channel. “Young guys, they’re going to come after you. They’re going to get some plays, you’re going to have to make some plays. It’s the education of a corner in the National Football Legaue. I appreciate his mentality. He was tough-minded about it and stayed in the fight.”
Pierre’s first notable play was a big one, tracking down RB Javonte Williams after a 49-yard gain, tackling him at the Steelers’ two and leaving “blades of grass to defend” as Tomlin loves to quip. Williams was flagged for spiking the ball, Teddy Bridgewater sacked, and Denver was forced to kick a field goal instead of tying the game up with a touchdown. Pittsburgh marched down the field for a TD on the ensuing drive.
“Big time hustle play,” Tomlin said about the moment.
Pierre’s day soured in the fourth quarter, giving up a 39-yard touchdown to Courtland Sutton down the left sideline with a little over five minutes to go, a play eerily similar to the one he allowed against the Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase in Week Three. Pierre again gave up space at the top/end of the route and Sutton made a diving grab into the end zone.
But he who laughs last laughs best. And Pierre made the game’s final play, intercepting Bridgewater on 4th down and halting the Broncos’ chance to tie the game.
Tomlin praised Pierre’s mentality but also the leadership veteran guys in the locker room, showing Pierre the way.
“I appreciate some of the veteran leadership and support that he has. A guy like Joe Haden talking you through those moments and helping you through a football game. It’s significant. I can’t say enough about Joe’s efforts in terms of nurturing him and helping him grow in those ways as well.”
Pierre was pressed into the starting lineup with Cam Sutton missing due to a groin injury. Today’s performance was similar to how Pierre played during training camp and the preseason. A good athlete, a playmaker, but a corner with aggressive eyes who tends to play the ball too much.
In a word, it was an uneven performance. But the last play helped put Pittsburgh on solid ground. And Pierre’s nothing if not mentally tough, arguably the most important trait a cornerback can have.