The Pittsburgh Steelers were fortunate to come out of yesterday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals with a victory, this in spite of the fact that they had a 5-0 edge in the turnover margin. The offense very clearly remains a work in progress, but they made the plays at the end of the game that needed to be made.
And it’s no surprise that one of the critical plays—or would-be critical plays—came down to Diontae Johnson, the team’s number one wide receiver, coming off of his first Pro Bowl, and more recently, a new contract extension.
Though he only finished the game with 55 receiving yards on seven catches, his 25-yard grab late in overtime helped set the Steelers up for a potential game-winning field goal attempt, even it Chris Boswell ended up hitting the left post on the eventual 55-yard attempt.
“I just seen the ball in the air. Lou [Balde, the team’s equipment manager] was telling me I had to make a play on the ball”, Johnson said of the play after the game, from a locker room interview after the game via the team’s social media. “Somebody had to make a play, and I just figured, ‘Why not me?’. Just went up and made a break on the ball, was able to get two feet in. I gotta give credit to Lou, all the work we put in day in and day out”.
Lou Balde has become a regular presence in team practices, actually. We had a hard time identifying just who he was initially when Tim Rice came back from training camp with numerous pictures of him interacting with players. But we’ve seen verified who he is, and it’s clear that he is active with the players, more than just handing out footballs.
Asked if he felt nervous about being able to make that play, Johnson said that he wasn’t, and he credited in large part the work that he puts in with Balde. “Never. It goes down to those practices with Lou after practice every day, making sure I’m getting two feet in without looking, and I was able to come down with it”, he said.
Of course, it would have been a bit bigger of a story if the Steelers actually ended up winning on that Boswell field goal attempt rather than a later one when they had the opportunity to get the ball back again. But that subsequent drive had its own critical play with a 26-yard connection to tight end Pat Freiermuth off of a free play.