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Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger calls out James Washington for drop

Joe Rutter
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Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver James Washington reaches for pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger offered some strong words Tuesday for wide receiver James Washington, whose drop of a deep pass Sunday was the latest miscalculation in an unproductive rookie season.

Washington left his feet and tried to make a diving catch in the third quarter of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 24-17 loss to the Denver Broncos.

On his weekly 93.7-FM radio segment, Roethlisberger criticized Washington for not only dropping the ball, but for his leaving his feet when he could have continued running.

“He has to make it,” Roethlisberger said. “I just think he didn’t trust his hands. For some reason, he jump/dove. I’m not really sure what he was doing. We look at it (on film), and coach got on him pretty good yesterday.

“We took a long, hard look at it. James needs to run through that, and it’s a touchdown.”

The play happened on second-and-8 from the Steelers 41 with 4:40 left in the third quarter on the series after the Broncos had tied the score, 17-17. Running down the right sideline, Washington had his hands on the ball but dropped it at the Broncos 22.

After another incomplete pass intended for Antonio Brown, the Steelers punted.

Of the 10 players that were targeted for passes Sunday, Washington was the only player who did not have a catch. He was 0 for 3 on passes thrown his way. For the season, Washington has caught just eight of 25 targets, a 32-percent rate that is the lowest among NFL receivers with at least 11 targets, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Yes, he’s a rookie, but you’re not going to be out there if you‘re not going to make those plays for us,” Roethlisberger said.

The second-round draft pick’s lack of production has led to a reduction in playing time. After playing in 86 and 79 percent of the offensive snaps against Baltimore and Carolina, respectively, Washington was on the field for 54 percent of the snaps against Jacksonville, and that number was reduced to 23 percent against Denver.

Washington was on the field for the final offensive snap when Roethlisberger threw an interception to Broncos nose tackle Shelby Harris.

“He needs to have confidence in himself,” Roethlisberger said. “When you have trust and confidence in yourself, you use your hands and you catch the ball. I felt like when he jumped and dove, whatever you want to call it, it showed a lack of confidence in himself and his hands.”

Roethlisberger still believes Washington can produce for the Steelers in the final five weeks of the season. Coach Mike Tomlin, however, was non-committal on Tuesday when asked whether Washington would be on the active roster this Sunday for the Steelers game against San Diego.

“I have confidence in him,” Roethlisberger said. “I wouldn’t have thrown it to him if I didn’t.”

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Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at [email protected] or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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