If you look at a box score and see that a receiver was targeted 11 times and caught six passes, you may assume that the majority of the five he didn’t catch were overthrown, underthrown or that he was the victim of some really good coverage.
However, in the case of Steelers receiver Sammie Coates, all 11 of the passes Ben Roethlisberger directed his way on Sunday seemed to find his hands. Unfortunately for the second-year man out of Auburn, five of them didn’t stick--and three of those five could have been touchdowns.
Coates came to the pros with a reputation for having shaky hands. But not only did he emerge as a deep-threat through the first four games of the 2016 season, he seemed to be developing rather nicely as an all-around receiver, with hands that were becoming more trustworthy with each passing week.
But it’s a funny thing about drops; when they start happening to a receiver, they tend to snowball. Like just about any other human in the universe, your average football player probably thinks about his mistakes more than his successes. And in the case of a receiver, there is no mistake more glaring and obvious than a dropped pass.
It doesn’t matter if it’s in high school, college, the pros, or even flag football, when a receiver drops a pass, everyone notices.
Just one may shake a person’s confidence, but five? Let’s just say if Coates didn’t want to crawl into a hole when he dropped what would have been a one-yard touchdown catch late in the first half, he was probably searching for a shovel after another short pass from Roethlisberger bounded off his hands early in the third quarter.
By that point, the 72-yard touchdown catch Coates had on the third play of the game may have felt like a great dream he was rudely woken up from.
Sure, Coates did suffer a laceration on his hand late in the first half, but by that point, the drops were already out of the barn.
Once a receiver develops a case of the drops, it can be a hard thing to recover from.
If you’ve been a Steelers fan since 2008, you are no doubt aware of the sad case of Limas Sweed, a second round pick out of Texas that season, who, like Coates, was big and fast and also wore No. 14.
Sweed, who many predicted would be a first round pick, was considered at absolute steal with potential galore.
But if you remember Sweed, you surely recall that infamous drop in the AFC Championship game against the Ravens at the tale-end of his rookie season. Sweed was wide-open and would have scored a touchdown had he held on to the ball.
While this was a temporary blow to the Steelers, who went on to win the game and then the Super Bowl, it seemed to be a permanent one for Sweed, who never recovered.
In 2009, there were more touchdown drops, as Sweed’s career quickly went up in smoke, and he never played for the Steelers or another NFL team after that season.
Fortunately for Coates, if he did find a shovel, he apparently used it to bury any bad memories that may have been in his head after those five drops over the first two-plus quarters.
Despite only catching two of seven passes up to that point, Roethlisberger looked for Coates four more times down-the-stretch on completions of 22, eight, 13 and five yards—the final one giving him his second touchdown of the afternoon and putting the finishing touches on a 31-13 Steelers victory.
For the day, Coates caught six passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns. He also averaged a whopping 23.2 yards per reception.
Had Roethlisberger lost faith in his young receiver, Coates may have lost faith in himself.
Most NFL games present a roller coaster of emotions. This is certainly true for your standard die-hard fan, but just like every other human in the universe, football players experience emotional ups and downs, too.
In the case of Sammie Coates, he experienced every emotional high and low possible for a young wide-out on Sunday, but the fact that he was the last Steelers receiver to catch a pass in the game tells you he may have the intestinal fortitude to recover from those mistakes that your average human tends to remember more than the successes.