Martavis Bryant, having been officially (and conditionally) reinstated, is set to make his long-awaited re-entry into the Pittsburgh Steelers lineup after missing the entirety of the 2016 season. I’m definitely excited. You should be, too.
At present, Bryant is shrouded by an almost mythical aura. He is entering his fourth professional season, but has played in only 24 career regular season and postseason games. In that span, however, Bryant has proven himself to be a prodigiously talented, albeit noticeably raw player who is always a threat and knows exactly how threatening he is. In fact, when Bryant scores a touchdown, the Steelers are 10-3, which neatly underlines his ability to directly influence the outcomes of games. Despite his less-than-voluminous portfolio of game logs, Bryant has already scored 16 career touchdowns, which I am going to rank below. Before I do, let’s go over some criteria:
- Touchdowns will be ranked solely on technical difficulty and significance, with the latter attribute carrying more weight.
- That’s literally it.
16. 11/09/2014 vs Jets (loss)
This 80-yard score, which effectively occurred in garbage time, trimmed Pittsburgh’s deficit against the Jets—who were being quarterbacked my Michael Vick—to a single possession with under 1:40 remaining in the game. Unfortunately, the Steelers did not recover the ensuing onside kick and thus lost to the Jets—who, again, were being quarterbacked by Michael Vick.
15. 10/26/2014 vs Colts (win)
This was the second of Bryant’s two touchdowns in an utter blowout of the Indianapolis Colts.
14. 10/26/2014 vs Colts (win)
This touchdown was notably better than the one listed above, both in terms of technical difficulty and significance (it also required Ben Roethlisberger to make an almost perfect throw). Importantly, though, this play proved that Bryant skillset extended beyond the confines of “burner” (absolutely no pun intended) and into “viable red-zone target.”
13. 11/05/2015 vs Browns (win)
As is often the case with Bryant, he simply torched one of Cleveland’s nameless corners, giving the Steelers an unrelinquishable 21-3 lead.
12. 10/25/2015 vs Chiefs (lost)
Had the Steelers won this game, this touchdown would’ve been ranked a lot higher since a) it cut Kansas City’s lead to six points about halfway through the third quarter b) it was a pretty good catch, requiring ample concentration and a neat little toe drag at the end and c) Landry Jones was playing quarterback.
11. 12/28/2014 vs Bengals (win)
This touchdown resulted from a run-of-the-mill screen-and-run, but it gave the Steelers a first-half lead against the Bengals in the regular season finale, which is always fun.
10. 11-02-2014 vs Ravens (win)
Much like the touchdown against Cincinnati listed above, this score broke a first-half tie against a hated division rival. This was Bryant’s fourth career touchdown in just his third career game. His greatness was not quite palpable, but we understood that he was a special player.
9. 12/06/2015 vs Colts (win)
This was but one of many touchdowns in Pittsburgh’s now-annual dismemberment of the Colts, but consider the following circumstances:
- This 39-yard touchdown occurred on third down.
- It gave the Steelers a 28-10 lead in the third quarter.
- If the Steelers didn’t convert that third down and were forced to punt, the Colts would’ve been down just two possessions with plenty of time on the clock.
- Losing this game would have put a severe damper on Pittsburgh’s playoff aspirations.
8. 11/02/2014 vs Ravens (win)
This touchdown had virtually no impact on the outcome of this game (it was Roethlisberger’s fifth touchdown of said game and gave the Steelers a 41-19 lead, but it was significant for two reasons. First, it was the fifth touchdown that Bryant scored in a three game span, which, amazingly, were the first three games of his NFL career. It was at this point that screen-printers in the Strip District began making “Killer B’s” t-shirts with caricatures of Bryant, Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.
Second, Bryant caught this ball between two Ravens defenders at the one-yard line, absorbed contact from both, shrugged them off, and essentially walked into the end-zone. It was so disrespectful and such a glorious exclamation to one of the most lopsided outcomes in the history of the Steelers-Ravens rivalry.
7. 11/08/2015 vs Raiders (win)
This game is correctly remembered as the game in which Antonio Brown put up 300 all-purpose yards, but it was Bryant’s touchdown with less than 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter that broke a 21-21 tie. (The Steelers would later inexplicably squander a two-touchdown lead, but they still won).
6. 01/03/2015 vs Ravens (loss)
This was an enormously-important touchdown that has kind of faded into obscurity since the Steelers ultimately lost this game. The Steelers, in the midst of one of their most stagnant offensive performances in recent memory, cut Baltimore’s lead to five points with less than 11 minutes remaining in the Wildcard Playoff game thanks to Bryant breaking free from his defender and making a sliding catch. Bryant finished this game with five catches for 61 yards and the aforementioned touchdown, further solidifying his status as one of the most exciting rookie receivers in the NFL.
5. 12/07/2014 vs Bengals (win)
This is probably the play that best encapsulates Bryant’s professional abilities. Nursing a 28-21 fourth-quarter lead against Cincinnati in a critical December road game, the Steelers were seeking a dagger. Backed nearly into his own end-zone, Roethlisberger received a snap at approximately his three yard-line, ready to play hero. Roughly 35 yards away, he noticed Bryant start to gain separation from Dre Kirkpatrick. Recognizing this, Roethlisberger fired a trademark bomb in Bryant’s direction, hitting Bryant (who was now at least five yards away from Kirkpatrick) in stride for a 94-yard, game-sealing touchdown.
4. 10/18/2015 vs Cardinals (win)
From a technical standpoint, this touchdown (Bryant’s first of two in the same game) was the best of Bryant’s career. Down 10-6 in a game that they had absolutely no business winning, the Steelers were goal-to-go from the eight yard-line sometime in the middle of the third quarter. Landry Jones, on in relief for the injured Vick, who was on in relief for the injured Roethlisberger, fired a pass toward Bryant in the back of the end-zone. Bryant caught the ball mid-flight over the safety and subsequently contorted his body to somehow land both feet inbounds. However, Bryant wasn’t done...
3. 10/18/2015 vs Cardinals (win)
Bryant’s second touchdown from the Arizona game was not nearly as difficult as the first, but it was more consequential.
The Steelers, deep in their own territory, held an ever-so-slim 18-13 lead with just under two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Not only did Arizona have timeouts to burn, but they also possessed one of the league’s most potent passing attacks. The Steelers, on the other hand, had one of the NFL’s leakiest pass defenses. Arizona did have issues scoring the ball in this particular game, but they had no issues whatsoever moving it, as evidenced by Carson Palmer’s 421 passing yards and John Brown’s 198 receiving yards.
Instead of allowing Arizona to retain possession (and potentially win the game), Jones simply found Bryant open in the middle of the secondary. Not satisfied with a crucial first-down, Bryant ran toward the Ohio River, the entire Cardinals secondary in pursuit. Eighty-eight yards, four devastating juke moves, and one incredibly awkward front-flip later, Bryant was sitting in the end-zone, with his Steelers holding a 24-13 lead over what may have been the NFL’s most talented roster in 2015.
2. 10/20/2014 vs Texans (win)
This touchdown, which was Bryant’s first, exhibited many of his hallmarks, including his breakaway speed, his ball-tracking ability, and his body control. It also ignited a spark that led the Steelers to transform a 13-3 second-quarter deficit to a 24-13 halftime lead.
1. 01/09/2016 vs Bengals (win)
So, so many levels to this one. Should we focus on the fact that Bryant probably should’ve caught this ball cleanly? Instead, he bobbled it, but somehow maintained possession by using his thighs to entomb the ball in his taint as he toppled out of bounds. Should we focus on how this play came on the heels of Roethlisberger very publicly challenging Bryant to play well in the postseason? Bryant had only 29 receiving yards in this game, but the 10 he gained on this play were unquestionably the most important of his career. Maybe we could focus on how Bryant’s touchdown enabled the Bengals to keep decades of postseason futility intact (though they certainly helped themselves in this regard later in the same game).
This touchdown, unfortunately, is actually Bryant’s most recent, so here’s to hoping we see many more like it in the years ahead.