PITTSBURGH — In the week leading up to the Steelers’ crucial Week 5 home date against the Baltimore Ravens, a lot of the talk was about how the team would be able to re-ignite the downfield passing offense.
A lot of the conversation centered around getting the ball into the hands of star wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster more often. Sunday, the plan backfired on multiple fronts.
The offense sputtered in the first half, despite Smith-Schuster’s name being called on two of the first three plays. Mason Rudolph left the game early in the third quarter with a concussion.
Things looked bleak, but the Steelers rallied around third-stringer Devlin Hodges, and had a chance to escape with a win when Hodges hit Smith-Schuster in stride on a play that looked like it could go for a big gain and potentially get the Steelers into field goal range.
But Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey punched the ball out of Smith-Schuster’s hand as he turned up field and recovered the ball to give the Ravens perfect field position for a game-winning Justin Tucker field goal.
“I feel terrible, man,” Smith-Schuster said. “It’s literally the worst feeling ever knowing that the game is on the line overtime and you have the ball, knowing that Marlon Humphrey, that’s what he does. He made a great play in a great situation and he made a great play for his team.”
After Humphrey punched the ball free, it laid on the turf for several seconds as another Baltimore defender attempted to corral it while sliding out of bounds, before Humphrey regain his balance and picked it up.
“The ball was just laying there,” Smith-Schuster said.
The Steelers star receiver let the team down in overtime, after originally being a spark. His 35-yard touchdown in the first half gave the team some much needed momentum. But he knows that a lot of goodwill can be erased with a single crucial mistake.
Smith-Schuster made a similar gaffe against the New Orleans Saints, when he fumbled as the Steelers were driving late while trailing.
“I can’t turn it over.”