The Pittsburgh Steelers, and their fans, had seen enough of Diontae Johnson dropping the football. After three weeks of Johnson not doing the one thing which separates him from the rest of the skill players on the roster, Mike Tomlin and Randy Fichtner decided to make a move.
Tomlin, living up to his threat leading up to the game vs. the Buffalo Bills on Sunday Night Football, decided to bench Johnson for the majority of the first half. In the second half, with the Steelers desperately needing a spark, Johnson bounced back and put together a nice half of football.
With no drops.
But was that enough to dispel any concern regarding Johnson and his case of the drops? Offensive Coordinator Randy Fichtner spoke about that this week during his media availability, and he knows what Johnson is capable of.
“Diontae [Johnson], he wants to win, and he wants to do things right. He was very professional about it.” Fichtner said. “I knew that at any one given time, we probably could have walked over after a series and said, “Hey man, let’s get back in there, let’s go.” I patted him on the ass before he went in. Probably shouldn’t say it like that, but on the way in, I said. “Hey man, we are going to be OK. Get yourself ready because you are going to start the second half and let’s go.”
“He is more than capable. He is an awesome guy with the football in his hands. I just think from whether concentration, or whether it’s maybe young guys not practicing leads to some of this. I don’t know. But I know one thing, he had a hell of a practice yesterday, and I couldn’t have been more proud of him. I think as we move forward, I think you will see a real consistent Diontae.”
Ben Roethlisberger had a talk with Johnson at halftime in Week 14, and it was his in-game response which had Roethlisberger thinking positive moving forward, as it pertains to one of his favorite targets.
“You know, we had a nice talk on the sideline at the end of the first half.” Roethlisberger said. “Like I said, I thought it was a good talk. I won’t tell you what we said. If [Diontae Johnson] wants to divulge what was said, that’s fine. Just trying to encourage him, and I was encouraged by the second half.
“I thought he came out and made some plays and showed some physicality in some of those catches, putting his head down and trying to get his yards and stuff like that. I was encouraged by his bounce back, really proud of him.”
Tuesday, during Mike Tomlin’s weekly press conference, he too was asked about Johnson’s response, and his thoughts on his being able to bounce back after being benched in a prime time game with huge AFC Playoffs implications.
“I thought [Diontae Johnson] responded appropriately.” Tomlin said. “He didn’t pout. He waited for his next opportunity, and when his next opportunity came, he was productive. We will move forward.”
Moving forward is where the true response will come. Sure, Johnson finished the second half without any drops, and looked every bit as dynamic as fans had gotten accustomed to seeing throughout the first half of the season, but it wasn’t enough to erase the last three weeks.
Johnson’s response will come when he puts together a full four quarter effort against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 15, and then against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 16 as well as the Cleveland Browns in Week 17.
The fact is, after being benched for nearly a half of football, the Steelers will hope Johnson gets out of his funk altogether, not just for a half or the rest of the regular season. That won’t be evident until the second year wideout out of Toledo is capable of truly putting the drops behind him permanently.
Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the Bengals on Monday Night Football in Week 15.