(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Diontae Johnson hit rock bottom when he was benched in the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills in Week 14 after two drops on three targets. Johnson would return in the second half and had three receptions for 28 yards. However, his confidence was still at an all-time low. At the time, Johnson led the league in drops with 12. The benching in the Buffalo game was a wake-up call for the second-year receiver out of Toledo.
"After that Buffalo Bills game, I sat down with myself and talked to myself, trying to figure out what was going on with me," Johnson said on Monday in a Zoom interview with the media. "It was really just a mental thing. Just paying attention to outside noise. Once I got rid of that and started dialing in on myself and just focusing in on me, it started showing in a game. I am locked in and ready to go. I just try to keep a positive mindset now. If I drop the ball, next play mentality. I am not worried about that drop. I can't do nothing about it. That type of thing I have been focusing on and it's been helping me."
In his last three games, Johnson has recorded 14 receptions for 229 yards (16.4 average) and two touchdowns. He's displayed better concentration and has been hauling in passes left and right, along with making some game-changing plays. No play was more crucial than his 39-yard diving touchdown reception in the end zone against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 16 to spark the Steelers' 17-point comeback in the second half to defeat the Colts, 28-24.
Johnson continued to make explosive plays down the field against the Browns in the regular-season finale on Sunday in Cleveland. He had three receptions for 96 yards, including a 41-yard catch on a field goal drive, an eight-yard grab on a touchdown drive, and a 47-yard deep catch on a touchdown drive that would have tied the game had the Steelers converted on the two-point attempt.
"I feel like those three catches I had helped us out tremendously," Johnson said. "That one 40 some yard catch we were about to get a field goal out of that, some points. The one I had, about 10 yards, we were able to get a first down and put us in good field position, and I think we wound up scoring that drive. That last deep ball I had, that gave us momentum to tie the game, but we didn't execute on the last play. Those three plays I felt like helped us out and kept us in the game.
"That gave me confidence, had me playing good out there again. I feel like myself again. I want to continue to show the world that is what I am capable of each Sunday. However far we go, this offseason I am going to work my tail off to come back stronger next year."
Mike Tomlin during his weekly press conference on Tuesday credited Johnson for turning things around and getting his game back on track, especially with the playoffs coming up.
"It is important that we all, if we can, going into this single-elimination tournament on the upswing," Tomlin said. "There are ups and downs over the course of the season and sometimes you are not afforded that opportunity. You don't get do-overs. It is what it is. The tape is our tape and it is our walking, talking, breathing resume. It's not about what we say, it's about what we do. Through it all, I think he understands that, and he has not run away from that and I think that's why his play is moving in the direction that it is moving."