Kevin Gorman: Big-play Martavis Bryant makes Steelers offense scary
For Martavis Bryant, it's all about read and react and a roll of the dice.
Bryant got the play call, saw the safety playing high, got inside on Minnesota Vikings cornerback Terence Newman and turned Ben Roethlisberger's slant pass into a 27-yard touchdown.
It was Bryant's first in 20 months, since beating the Bengals in the 2016 playoffs.
No wonder he celebrated by mimicking a craps game.
“When you score a touchdown, it's always an accomplishment,” Bryant said. “It felt great, but I want more. I'm not just going to settle for one. I've got a long season, so I'm looking for more.”
After a season-long suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, Bryant had a breakout game in the Steelers' 26-9 victory over the Vikings on Sunday at Heinz Field. He had team bests in receiving yards (91) and scrimmage yards (98) and drew a 49-yard interference penalty.
The scary part?
“He's going to continue to get better,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “What you saw wasn't a finished product.”
That's great news for a Steelers offense that seemed out of sync in the season opener at Cleveland but found its footing, thanks to the impact Bryant made in forcing opposing defensive backs pick their poison.
They can try to cover him deep, but covering the 6-foot-4, 218-pounder often leads to either a big pass play or a costly penalty, something Roethlisberger sees as an opportunity for the Steelers to make major gains.
“When he's behind people, DBs panic a little bit, which they did,” Roethlisberger said. “You either grab him, or he catches it. I told him, ‘Hey, we love the penalty and moving down, but we'll also take the catch.' He wants those yards, and we'll all take the stats on offense, but it's a big play. …
“Those are risk-reward things we'll take our chances with.”
The reward also has been beneficial for All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown, who is drawing less double and triple teams because of Bryant. Where Bryant had only two catches for 14 yards at Cleveland, Brown had 11 catches for 182 yards. Against the Vikings, Bryant had three catches for 91 yards, Brown had five for 62 yards and Le'Veon Bell rushed for 87 yards on 27 carries.
“It opens up more of the offense,” Bell said. “I think you can't really just take a guy like (Brown) out of the game. You can't just take our run game out. So you have to have a guy on the other side making plays. I think Martavis is putting it back on film. He's a guy that can be consistent, go out there and make plays.”
Bryant scored the Steelers' first touchdown and drew the pass-interference penalty on a deep post against cornerback Trae Waynes to set up their second touchdown.
“If they didn't grab me, it definitely was a touchdown,” Bryant said. “At least we got a flag.”
Bryant also caught a 13-yard pass to convert a critical third-and-12 and followed with a diving, 51-yard catch at the Vikings' 11 that led to Chris Boswell's 29-yard field goal for a 20-9 lead at 5 minutes, 5 seconds of the third quarter.
So Bryant factored into three of the Steelers' first four scoring drives.
Bryant had an incredible start to his NFL career before being sidetracked by the suspension. He set a Steelers record with 14 touchdowns in his first 16 games, became the first receiver in NFL history to record a 40-yard run in successive playoff games and only the second in league history to score two touchdowns of at least 88 yards in each of his first two seasons.
Bryant is once again showing his big-play ability for the Steelers.
“I feel like my legs are starting to get back under me,” Bryant said. “I'm starting to get back into my football shape that I'm used to playing at. As each game comes along, I'm going to get better and better each week. That's all I can ask of myself, to get better as the team is on the rise. ...
“I'm always willing to get better. Me and coach talked after the game, and I told him, ‘I've got to get better this week.' I never want to be complacent with what I'm doing.”
Bryant is the ultimate crapshoot, a player who is one infraction away from becoming a cautionary tale. The Steelers shied away from speaking about his potential impact until he was completely cleared by the NFL.
“The guy has been out of the game for 12 months,” Tomlin said. “We respect the process he's going through. He respects the process he is going through. Along the way, he's got to give us positive contributions to our effort, and he's done that through two weeks, and we expect him to continue to do that as he rounds his game off into what it's capable of being.”
Bryant wants to show the Steelers that they can start to trust him again.
“I've come a long way,” Bryant said. “I've been out a whole year and put a lot of work in. I'm just focused on getting better, getting better as a team and just going out and playing hard on Sundays. As far as what's happened in my past is in my past, and I don't focus on that anymore. ...
“I'm happy to be back, and I'm happy that the fans are welcoming me back. It's always emotional when we play at home. We want to win and also want to put on a show for our fans.”
That was the best part for Bryant on Sunday in the Steelers' home opener: The only crapshoot came courtesy of his touchdown celebration.