The dynamic second-year deep threat at wide receiver who averaged 20.1 yards per catch in his first seven games this season and scored all six of his touchdowns has averaged just 7.5 yards per catch over the past four. He has caught two passes for six yards over the past two games and spent most of the second half Sunday in Cleveland on the bench after he ran a poor route that ended in a Ben Roethlisberger interception.
Now, the quarterback is calling for Bryant to toughen up for the playoffs.
"He needs to understand that –and this is coming from love from me and other guys – that this time of year you have to tough it up,” Roethlisberger said about Bryant Tuesday on his 93.7 The Fan radio spot. “You have to get tough and you got to make tough plays and make tough catches. You have to find ways to do everything you can to help this team.
"We need Steeler tough from him."
Bryant missed some practice time last week, and the Steelers reported it as an illness and then listed him as questionable because of it. He played Sunday in Cleveland and caught his only pass on the game’s second series for no gain.
Later in the first quarter, he ran an imprecise route according to Roethlisberger, and the pass was intercepted. After that, Darius Heyward-Bey replaced him in most situations. Bryant wound up playing only 12 snaps on offense, Heyward-Bey 30.
Roethlisberger explained what happened on the pass that was intended for Bryant but intercepted.
“He didn’t push his depth and, then, when he got in there he saw the safety, he kind of peaked at him and instead of coming right back to me -- and I think the worst- case scenario the ball gets batted down because they’re contesting -- he tried to go around that guy and that guy made a good play.
“That’s just was one of those things that I don’t think he got the proper reps during the week. That’s the toughness and mentality part that we talk about, not making those mental mistakes moving forward in the postseason now because we need a big postseason from him because we know defenses are going to be tuned into [Antonio Brown], so we need other guys to step up. Last week was awesome, [Darius Heyward-Bey] stepped up in a big way.”
Bryant, the team’s fourth-round draft choice in 2014, exploded into their lineup after not suiting up for the first six games as a rookie. He caught six touchdown passes in his first four games, finished with eight and averaged 21.1 yards per his 26 receptions.
After serving a four-game suspension by the NFL to start the season because of substance abuse and then missing the fifth game when the Steelers chose not to activate him, Bryant picked right back up. He had six catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns in his first game back, against Arizona, and continued to average over 20 yards per game until his dropoff the past month.
“I want to challenge him to be the best in the world,’’ Roethlisberger declared. “It’s really up to him what he wants to do with that challenge. Does he want to crumble and wilt and pout and let it bother him or does he want to rise up, step up and say I want to take that challenge and I want to be the best in the world?”
Mike Tomlin was not as pointed with his assessment of his young receiver at his Tuesday news conference. He said the route and pass that resulted in an interception in Cleveland was not the reason Bryant played little after it.
“No, he sustained a minor injury that we wanted to help him get through. He missed a lot of time during the week, because of illness. Oftentimes, when young guys don’t get an opportunity to practice, they lack a little detail in play. I’m not going to get into details about what unfolded on that interception, other than to acknowledge that [Browns safety Jordan] Poyer made a nice play. I think to do anything else would take away from the quality play that he made.
“We’re excited about preparing this week with Martavis and everyone else.”
Ed Bouchette: email@example.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.
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