The Pittsburgh Steelers played like crap for at least half of the game last night. But you certainly cannot accuse them of giving up. Both sides of the ball continued to fight, and to make plays, all the way down to the wire. The defense held the Vikings to seven in the second half, while the offense put up 28, and they nearly had the tying score, pending a two-point attempt, as time expired.
Some of it took a shuffling in and out of personnel to mix things up and see who would step up and make plays. And one of those players was fourth-year wide receiver James Washington, who played a good amount of time in the second half and had his best game of the season.
“He was one of the guys that made plays”, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has always been in his corner, said after the game, noting that he looked for Washington near the end of the game. “The second-to-last play down the right sideline, I kind of told him, ‘hey listen, I’m throwing it up to you. Make a play’. There were two guys there, and he still almost made the play”.
It didn’t quite work—in fact, it should have been intercepted—but he still finished with four catches for 65 yards and a touchdown, helping to spark the Steelers’ offensive turnaround. He made multiple contested catches, including one that was a genuine simultaneous catch situation—fortunately the tie goes to the offensive player.
“You need guys to step up and make plays, guys that have heart and desire and want to be out there to do what they can for the team, and I thought James did that”, Roethlisberger said, though he didn’t leave others out. “I thought a lot of guys really contributed in giving us a chance”.
Much of the fourth-year receivers’ playing time came at the expense of Chase Claypool, who had a very rough first half, making a number of mental errors both within plays and outside of plays. Head coach Mike Tomlin was unambiguous in stating after the game that he benched the receiver for a spell.
But Claypool did come back to make some big plays, finishing with game-highs of eight catches for 93 yards, yet he has only found the end zone just one so far this season. Diontae Johnson also finished with five catches for 76 yards, and caught a successful two-point conversion.
It was tough sledding for most of the game, but the Steelers’ rushing numbers ending up coming in respectable. Najee Harris rushed for 91 yards on 20 attempts with one touchdown (he also caught three passes, including another touchdown).
Yet if Washington didn’t come up and make a couple of energizing plays, I’m not sure the game even gets to be as close as it ended up being. Credit to him for staying engaged and ready to contribute when his number was called.