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Patience after Early Setbacks Pays off for Diontae Johnson, Steelers Passing Offense

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PITTSBURGH — Steelers rookie wide receiver Diontae Johnson was not happy.

First of all, the Steelers were losing, 14-3, to the winless Miami Dolphins at home on Monday Night Football.

Second of all, what looked like the big spark the offense needed to finally get going had just been called back thanks to a questionable offensive pass interference penalty.

Johnson and Miami cornerback Xavien Howard ran down the sideline in lock step, with Johnson’s left arm intertwined with Howard’s right.

As the lofted pass from Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph approached, Johnson freed his arm with a slight push and made a one-handed grab that would have put the Steelers at the Dolphins’ 1-yard line.

Instead, Johnson was flagged for offensive pass interference, a charge that he adamantly denies

“I question some of the calls that the referees make sometimes,” Johnson said after the game. “It’s unbelievable. You clearly can see that I didn’t push off at all. It is what it is. I’ve just got to move on.”

That can be easier said that done. For Johnson, it didn’t seem that difficult. Three plays later, Rudolph found Johnson open underneath after Miami unleashed an eight-man blitz. Johnson took it 45 yards to paydirt, working behind a pair of crushing James Washington blocks to find the end zone.

“It felt like a punt return, actually,” Johnson said. “I felt like I was in college just being able to get down the field like that. Gotta give credit to James Washington, because he made a good block for me to get into the end zone.”

Just a few plays after Howard was all over Johnson, he was wide open on the touchdown. With the Dolphins blitzing eight and dropping three into deep zones, there was no one anywhere near him when he caught the ball.

“It was a zero coverage, so everybody blitzed and the rest of the DBs were 18-20 yards out,” Johnson said. “It was kind of a hot route or whatever. … It was really just a simple slant route.”

The score was the turning point in the Steelers’ 27-14 comeback victory. After a frustrating first half, Rudolph turned things around, adding a second touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster and finishing with 251 passing yards.

The slow start had the crowd audibly booing and Twitter calling for the return of Devlin Hodges, but thanks to help from his receivers, Rudolph kept throwing and found his form.

Similarly, Johnson took the lumps from his highlight catch called back, only to earn himself another one.

“I’d say God was looking out for me right there,” Johnson said. “They made a bad call. He gave me that touchdown.”

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