We’ve written about Pat Freiermuth’s 4th and goal touchdown against the Cleveland Browns several times already. But we’re revisiting it once more because of the praise Ben Roethlisberger had for Freiermuth’s effort and execution. To hear Roethlisberger tell it, it was hard work and correction paying off.
As Part 4 of his documentary Different, Roethlisberger describes the play. Drawn up essentially on the sideline, he says the primary receiver was Chase Claypool running a “return” route, breaking to the inside like he’s running a slant before pivoting outside into the flat. The idea being getting the cornerback to drive on what he thinks is a slant and being unable to cover the flat/pivot route.
Roethlisberger was so confident in the call he didn’t even tell Freiermuth what route to run, who had to ask Roethlisberger what to do as the team left the sideline and took the field.
On the snap of the ball, Claypool’s route was well-defended and taken away. Roethlisberger had no other option but to throw the ball up to Freiermuth and hope he’d make a play.
“So I go to throw to Chase. Chase’s guy doesn’t bite. He’s waiting all over Chase. And I’m like, ‘oh shoot.'”
In describing the moment, Roethlisberger said Freiermuth’s biggest issue was getting both feet inbounds in the back of the end zone.
“Rewind a couple months,” he said in the documentary, filmed last week but released today. “Maybe the preseason. We’re doing some stuff in practice and Pat goes up to catch the ball in the back of the end zone and only gets one foot inbounds. In college, you need one foot inbounds, pros you need two. [Guys from college] are only used to doing just one. He makes a great catch and only gets one foot in. We’re like, oh Pat it’s no good, it’s no good. You didn’t drag your foot. You gotta work on this.’ And then it happened one other time. He was doing better and then another time, same thing happened. Great catch, one foot. I remember Coach T saying ‘did he get two in?’ I said ‘no, he’s still got to work on that.’ This is like a month or two ago.”
So when Roethlisberger threw the ball to Freiermuth in that moment, he hoped for a difference in the outcome. He got one.
“Pat goes up, the defender makes a decent enough play. Pat gets it one foot-in and as he’s going to the ground, taps the second one. He could have very easily, habit, college, one foot in. He dragged his foot. It was teaching tape footage. Literally a month ago, we were talking about he’s gotta work on this…he’s done something where he improved and made that play. It’s so cool to see a guy take something from practice that you talk about, that you work on, puts it into action, in a game, [as a game-winner].”
Here’s a look at the catch.
An incredibly difficult play for Freiermuth, who had to juggle to bring the ball in after it was initially separated by Browns’ safety Ronnie Harrison. Freiermuth caught the ball on the way down, planted his right foot, and then dragged his left foot all while securing the football through the ground. Any sort of wiggle of the ball or lacking the awareness to get that left foot down would’ve resulted in an incomplete pass, turnover on downs, and the Steelers still trailing 10-9.
It’s one of many reasons why Roethlisberger and the Steelers have been so effusive of their praise of Freiermuth. While he’s not playing dramatically differently from his college scouting report, there were still plenty areas of his game to grow. In general, the learning curve for a rookie tight end is hard and Freiermuth barely even played his final year at Penn State, missing a chunk of the season due to shoulder surgery.
What he’s been able to do this season shouldn’t be taken for granted. It makes Freiermuth’s future a bright one. He didn’t need to wait until 2022 to become this team’s starter. He’s doing it right now.