Kevin Gorman: Steelers' JuJu Smith-Schuster puts win over Lions on lock
JuJu Smith-Schuster went from serving as a prop for the Steelers to stealing the spotlight on NBC's Sunday Night Football.
Smith-Schuster made the play in the Steelers' 20-15 victory over the Lions at Ford Field and a subsequent touchdown celebration that showed he learned a lesson with his stolen-bike saga.
JuJu put this one on lock.
After serving as the bench for Le'Veon Bell's bench-press touchdown skit, the 20-year-old rookie receiver turned a third-down pass into a 97-yard touchdown and provided what proved to be the winning points.
Smith-Schuster even celebrated by wrapping a stationary bike in a chain.
“It was a huge opportunity, not only to show what I'm capable of doing,” Smith-Schuster said, “but to show the world what the Steelers are able to do. I felt like we did that.”
So ended a whirlwind week for Smith-Schuster, who made headlines with his hide-and-seek touchdown celebration against Cincinnati, his handling of Martavis Bryant's post-game criticism on social media and his beloved bike being stolen.
With Bryant benched by Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, Smith-Schuster started the game with a 41-yard catch on the opening play. He finished with seven receptions on 10 targets for 193 yards.
“He's not playing like a rookie,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “He's playing like a seasoned veteran, and it's fun to watch. Maybe he's too young and too silly and too fun to know any better, but I'll tell you what: We love him, and we just hope we keep getting great play from him.”
The greatest play came soon after the Steelers made a momentum-changing, goal-line stand by sacking Matthew Stafford on fourth-and-goal at the 1.
The Lions showed a defense with two safeties deployed high, a similar look to what the Steelers had seen earlier in the game. On that play, Smith-Schuster tried to juke the defender.
“I told him, ‘Listen, next time you get that look, beat 'em with speed.' He did that,” Roethlisberger said. “I told him I didn't know he had that much speed. He said he didn't know, either.”
Not only did it tie a club record for longest scoring play, it set one for longest catch in Steelers history.
After the game, Smith-Schuster tweeted the NFL Draft scouting report on himself: “Will struggle to separate from NFL CBS, not a deep threat, not a precise route runner.”
Tomlin called the 97-yard touchdown an “enormous play,” saying Smith-Schuster “did a nice job creating separation and making the throw easy for Ben.”
What impressed Roethlisberger most was not that Smith-Schuster outran three Lions but that he dwelled on a third-and-7 drop early in the fourth quarter.
“He had a great game — a Steeler record for longest pass play — and he was kind of beating himself up over a drop on third down late in the game,” Roethlisberger said. “To me, that was encouraging. He could've sat in there and said, ‘I had a great game. I had this big play. I made all these big plays.' But he's sitting there on the one he didn't make that potentially could've sealed it. ...
“For him to show that much maturity, be selfless and put the team first, that's what I like to see the most.”
The Steelers continue to marvel at the maturity of Smith-Schuster, a second-round pick from Southern Cal whose approach and attitude are a refreshing break from NFL diva receivers.
Tight end Xavier Grimble called him “genuinely a kid at heart. He's having a ball. You can tell he loves the team, loves to be here and just comes to work and works hard.” Added center Maurkice Pouncey: “We can't be more lucky to have a kid like that on our team.”
A kid who showed that no moment is too big and that he has some serious wheels.