Winning pretty hasn’t exactly been the Steelers’ way. It certainly isn’t now, and is wasn’t even at the height of the ‘Killer Bs’ era with Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown representing some of the best players at their respective positions.
Their wide receivers make some pretty plays, to be sure, and that includes veteran Diontae Johnson. They’re still leaving enough on the table, however, to groan about. Johnson in particular has had a trial of a year not just for fans but for himself personally, and today’s game was a good example of that.
He finished the game with only five receptions on 11 targets, going for 60 yards, but there was so much more on the plate for him—not all of it entirely his fault, but enough of it, anyway. That included a big third-down drop late in the game that was initially ruled a fumble, but another drop on third down was unambiguous.
“I just looked up the field and looked back and the ball was in a different spot”, Johnson said via transcript of his drop early in the second quarter, which came on 3rd and 11 and would have almost undoubtedly resulted in a conversion. “I’m not making any excuses. I just have to catch the ball in that moment”.
You can see the play above. Johnson ran a crosser out of the left slot out of a a 2×3 alignment, Steven Sims outside the numbers running a clear-out to open up the right sideline. Johnson had daylight with cornerback A.J. Terrell pretty heavily trailing behind him, although a safety was lurking—far enough away that he couldn’t have prevented a first down.
This was a critical play and served as part of the theme of the day, which was long drives ending in field goals. The Steelers were at the Falcons’ 28, and had he caught the ball, they would have easily had a first down inside the 10, if not first and goal.
They ultimately finished 1-of-3 in the red zone, not good enough, and of course that did not include this drive where they had a 1st and 10 on the Falcons’ 27. A one-yard loss by Najee Harris on first down, however, followed by two incomplete pass attempts (one being Johnson’s drop) meant a 46-yard field goal for Matthew Wright.
Facing a 3rd and 8 on the first play of the fourth quarter, it was Johnson on the target again from the Steelers’ own 27. This time he caught the pass, but in an effort to try to advance and make a play when it didn’t look like he had room for a first down, he allowed the ball to be jarred loose.
It was initially ruled a completed catch and a fumble, but surprisingly upon review, the officials determined that he had not completed a ‘football move’ by the time the ball was loose. That was the biggest break of the night—even if it just meant that they got the chance to punt.