Pat Freirmuth’s seven touchdowns last season tied a Pittsburgh Steelers rookie tight end record. It was also the second-most touchdowns ever caught by a tight end in a single season in team history, off the ball of a 60-reception, 497-yard stat line.
Yet he probably remembers his first fumble as well or better than he does his first score. It came at the end of overtime against the Detroit Lions, on a reception that otherwise would have set the team up for a potential game-winning field goal. He spoke about that moment among many other topics in a wide-ranging interview with Adam Breneman on the Breneman Shows Up show.
“It was definitely tough. That was the toughest experience I’ve ever faced”, he said, “because, in college and in high school, up to that point, I’ve never really been in a situation where, in my mind, it cost us the game. Obviously everybody’s gonna say there’s other plays that could’ve won it, but in my mind, that play lost us the game”.
Now, I don’t know if he meant that in terms of his football life or in general, but either way, it certainly isn’t a moment that anybody could look back on fondly. And, of course, they didn’t lose the game—they tied—but pretty much everybody in Pittsburgh said that it felt like a loss.
“It was definitely tough the next couple of days going into the building, but the guys on the team were great, Tomlin was great, and stuff like that, but that was rough”, Freiermuth continued. “That was definitely one of the experiences where I think back to, and for a couple of weeks after that, whenever I got the ball, I was very timid. Like, ‘Don’t fumble the ball’”.
In the three games after the fumble, Freiermuth caught 11 out of 15 targets, for just 77 yards, averaging seven yards per reception, although he did have two touchdowns. He talked about learning from that moment, but also learning not to be timid in response.
Largely because of the manner in which he was used in the offense, the second-round pick didn’t get many opportunities to make ‘splash’ plays. His average depth of target was just 5.3 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, but he still managed 4.1 yards after the catch per reception, a number that improved over the course of the year.
Freiermuth quickly earned a reputation for reliability during his rookie season, which really began over the summer during practices. Anything you threw in his vicinity, seemingly, he would come down with. It’s a quality he prides himself in, so it’s understandable that he would take a blemish to that reputation seriously.
Freiermuth did drop two passes over the course of the season, but on 79 targets, that’s a very healthy ratio. Of course, there was also that potential touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings that he was prevented from holding onto, which he also took hard.
After just one season in the league, however, he has already carved out a niche for himself, and will be counted upon to be a key figure in the Steelers’ new offense, a safety valve for their next quarterback. He helped finish out the career of a Hall of Famer, and now he inaugurates the next chapter in Pittsburgh.