One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity.
Sunday afternoon against Tampa Bay, there was plenty of misfortune. And tons of opportunity. Pittsburgh’s secondary stood up in ways few outside the locker room expected, the combination of Josh Jackson, James Pierre, Elijah Riley, Quincy Wilson, and others logging significant snaps. All of them held their own. Some, like Pierre, thrived.
Speaking with CBS Sport’s Aditi Kinkhabwala Wednesday for 93.7 The Fan, CB Arthur Maulet said he delivered a simple but effective message to the group.
“When I looked at everybody in the eye when we broke the huddle,” Maulet told Kinkhabwala, “when you’re in this profession, all you need is an opportunity. Regardless if you’re gonna be a starter for the rest of the year or not. I just told them take advantage of the opportunity that they’re getting because you get very slim in this league. As long you put good film out there and do what you’re supposed to do, then they’ll be fine. And that’s what happened.”
The secondary ran with the opportunity making future Hall of Famer Tom Brady look as mortal as he ever had against the Steelers. 25/40 for just 243 yards and one touchdown, a dump-off in the flat late in the fourth quarter. Brady wasn’t awful, his receivers certainly didn’t always step up, but his play was a far cry from his normal performance of carving up the Steelers’ defense. He could take it to groups that had James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, and other greats. But he couldn’t solve what Pittsburgh put out last weekend.
Maulet knows a thing or two about opportunity. An undersized free agent, Maulet beat long odds. Under 5’10, he ran a 4.64 at his Pro Day, numbers that typically don’t spell NFL success. But like Corey Ivy or Mike Hilton, Maulet has found a role, a unique niche as a run-down slot corner, though injuries have forced him to be an all-situations guy the last three weeks. After being cut eight times, playing for four teams, barley scraping by (he told Kinkhabwala he lived with his mom in New Orleans to save money), Maulet’s stuck in Pittsburgh.
With their impressive collective play Sunday, others may stick, too. Jackson is a “pedigree” guy the Steelers love, a former second-round pick who might stick around in Pittsburgh. Pierre’s career has been bumpy, benched last year and making the roster this year solely as a special-teamer, but his performance against Tampa could breath new life into his defensive career. Riley is a versatile piece the Steelers should hold on to while even the lone veteran Terrell Edmunds had one of the best games of his career, stepping up when the team needed him the most.
Even if this game doesn’t lead to stardom, you can consider this group the new-age Replacements. The rag-tag group of guys the Steelers turned to because there was no one else to turn to. And it’s a game they can tell their kids about. I beat Tom Brady. That’s one heck of a story.