Even in victory, Kenny Pickett’s line against the Green Bay Packers looks pedestrian. He finished 14-of-23 for 126 yards, no touchdowns, and no interceptions. Had he made one more play, the box score would’ve been a whole lot better. Down 19-17 and facing 3rd and 3 with just over a minute left in the third quarter, WR Diontae Johnson dusted the cornerback covering him man-to-man. Johnson won with his release, stacked the corner, and put his hand up in the air, the universal sign of “I’m open, throw me the ball.”
And then, nothing. Pickett never saw him, instead throwing the ball into the left flat, a contested play that Warren couldn’t haul in. Instead of what should’ve been an extra point, Chris Boswell came out to connect on a field goal.
Pickett and Johnson spoke with reporters after Wednesday’s practice to offer their perspectives on the moment.
“He beat the guy off the line and adjusted his route,” he said via the Steelers’ YouTube channel. “He did a great job of putting his hand up. Obviously, I didn’t see him change the route. But he had the green light to do that. He beat him so bad off the line and mailboxed and put his hand up. I just didn’t see him adjust the route.”
We’re all about showing, not telling, so here’s the play. Johnson is the receiver at the top of the screen. You can see him vent out a little frustration at the end, pulling up with high knees knowing that would’ve been six points in a critical moment.
Hungry to start a touchdown streak after ending his end zone drought in Week Nine against the Tennessee Titans, Johnson took the moment in stride.
“He probably didn’t see me,” Johnson said, also via the team’s YouTube channel. “Like I said, we would love to have that one back. Obviously, we could’ve got some points, but like I said, it’s plays that happen like that sometimes. Just not showing your frustration out there.”
Ultimately, a missed chance by Pickett and a poor read, trying to force the ball into the flat that luckily wasn’t intercepted. In fairness, it’s understandable he was looking to just pick up the first down on third and short, and Pickett’s made an effort to target his backs in the passing game more often since the bye week. And the cornerback rolled up on Johnson right before the snap, giving him the chance to win vertically and convert his route based on the coverage. Still, it would’ve been a chance for the passing game to come alive on an afternoon where it looked like Pittsburgh had the advantage going against a Packers’ secondary without top corner Jaire Alexander.
But quarterbacks don’t see everything. They all miss open receivers, a fact Johnson understood. Still, he hopes Pickett looks his way next time.
“I would say just see it faster. Just seeing it sooner,” Johnson said when asked how the two can connect in the future. Like I said, he not gonna always see everything out there so can’t really harp on them too much. Just keep playing.”
Pickett’s never been shy about throwing the deep ball when he sees one-on-one coverage. It’s an unfortunate moment and missed opportunity, a theme of the passing game over the last three weeks. The Cleveland Browns play plenty of man coverage with aggressive corners, though beating stud players like CBs Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome will be much harder.