‘Never satisfied’ JuJu Smith-Schuster reaches 1,000 yards in 2nd NFL season
DENVER – JuJu Smith-Schuster wasn’t the first Steelers wide receiver this century to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in his second NFL season when he reached the milestone Sunday in a 24-17 loss to the Denver Broncos.
He wasn’t the second or third, either.
Smith-Schuster became the fourth second-year player for the Steelers since 2000 to reach quadruple digits, but nobody else did it on a day when they matched the record for longest pass play in franchise history.
Smith-Schuster’s 97-yard touchdown catch early in the third quarter put him on the doorstep of 1,000 yards and provided the Steelers with a 17-10 lead, their only one of the game.
Smith-Schuster entered the game with 844 receiving yards and he finished it with 1,055 after catching 13 passes for 189 yards. The 13 catches tied a career high and the yardage total was the second-highest of his young career.
“JuJu is crazy,” guard David DeCastro said. “That’s awesome, he’s an awesome weapon, that’s for sure.”
Smith-Schuster embraced the opportunity to put up big numbers in his second season.
“One of my top goals,” he said. “Obviously, every receiver has yards, catches, pretty much touchdowns, and I reached that goal. But I’m never satisfied.”
Smith-Schuster, who turned 22 on Thanksgiving, is the youngest receiver in Steelers history to have a 1,000-yard season. In the past two decades, Plaxico Burress, Mike Wallace and teammate Antonio Brown also reached the milestone in their second year in the league. (For the record, Hines Ward didn’t get his first 1,000-yard season until his fourth year).
“He had a great game, and I’m really happy for him,” Brown said.
Thanks to a strong second half to his rookie season, Smith-Schuster had 68 catches for 917 yards in 2017. He established a career-high in receptions last weekend against Jacksonville and increased his team lead to 77 catches after his big day against the Broncos. If Smith-Schuster averages five catches over the final five games of the regular season, he’ll reach triple digits.
“He’s reliable, dependable and trustworthy,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “I know he is going to be in the right spot.”
Entering the third quarter, Smith-Schuster had eight catches but for just 39 yards. His yards-per-catch average soared when he took a deep pass from Roethlisberger and didn’t stop until he reached the end zone for a 97-yard score with 10:32 left in the third quarter. That matched the distance Smith-Schuster covered as a rookie on a touchdown catch against the Detroit Lions.
“It was single high, and you just kind of pick a side,” Roethlisberger said. “They got pressure early pretty quick. I saw JuJu went inside, and I just let it go. You never really think it’s going to be a touchdown. You just think it’s going to be a completion for a big chunk.”
Brown threw a block downfield that helped spring Smith-Schuster for extra yardage. Inside the Broncos 25, he encountered safety Darian Stewart. Smith-Schuster used a stiff-arm to brush aside Stewart. From there, it was clear sailing into the end zone.
“I saw AB blocking, I took the cut and just turned it up and over,” Smith-Schuster said.
The long touchdown put Smith-Schuster’s season total at 992 yards. A 13-yard catch midway through the fourth quarter put him over the top.
On the Steelers’ final drive, Roethlisberger connected with Smith-Schuster on a pair of 19-yard completions. The first one put the Steelers in Broncos territory, the second one set them up at the 20.
When the Steelers comeback hopes ended with Roethlisberger throwing an interception in the end zone, it took the shine off Smith-Schuster’s achievements. The interception was the fourth turnover of the game committed by the Steelers and second in the end zone.
“It’s very frustrating,” Smith-Schuster said. “We’re a high-powered offense. For us to go up and down the field and not put points on the board, that hurts us as you see from the result tonight.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.