Whirl interrupted: Steve Johnson drops ball
November, 28, 2010
By Tim Graham | ESPN.com
Karl Walter/Getty ImagesSteve Johnson had five dropped passes Sunday, including what would have been the game-winning touchdown during overtime.ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Tears still were welled in Steve Johnson's bloodshot eyes when he stepped down from the podium, walked out of the postgame interview room and exited Ralph Wilson Stadium up the tunnel ramp.
Based on how he was dressed, he should have headed back to the locker room. But Johnson clearly was in another world as he dejectedly trudged toward the parking lot in a sleeveless shirt, basketball shorts, his red Buffalo Bills leggings and untied sneakers.
The wind made it feel like 31 degrees and there was snow on the ground. On this day, though, Johnson couldn't catch a cold.
Johnson has been Buffalo's breakout star, a 2008 seventh-round draft pick on pace to break the club's season record for touchdown receptions.
He should have caught his 10th touchdown Sunday. He should have beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime Sunday. He was wide open for an arcing 40-yard bomb. He dropped it in the end zone.
The Steelers kicked a field goal on the next possession to win 19-16.
A third straight Bills victory caromed off Johnson's fingers. They lost for the third time in sudden death, becoming the fifth team to do so since overtime was instituted in 1974 and just the second over the past 20 seasons.
Johnson was so despondent after the game, he took to Twitter where he questioned a higher power for allowing him to drop the would-be touchdown.
"I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO..."
In his postgame news conference before he left the stadium, Johnson's emotions were raw.
"It comes down to one play and you drop the ball," Johnson said. "We'll bounce back, of course. The season's not over yet. We're going to have to bounce back, and we will.
"I'll never get over it. Ever. The Buffalo Bills will get over it, but I won't. You're a receiver. You don't drop the ball. I won't get over it."
The Bills (2-9) are playing terrifically lately and have grown significantly since the season began. They have lost three games by an overtime field goal to teams that are at least tied for first place in their divisions. They are clearly not the NFL's worst team, a distinction that was in question a few weeks ago.
The loss should not be blamed solely on Johnson. His end zone flub came on first down, giving the Bills two more chances to move the chains or get into field goal range for Rian Lindell, who had kicked a 49-yarder with two seconds left in regulation time.
After Johnson's end zone drop, the Bills' defense could have made a stop on the next possession. Instead, the Steelers ended the game with a 13-play drive, converting a third-and-8 along the way.
Leodis McKelvin would have returned the overtime kickoff for a touchdown had he not tripped over teammate Arthur Moats in the open field.
But Johnson's failure to latch on will take the spotlight because it could have ended the game right then and there.
"We're playing the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Buffalo Bills come to play football, and it just so happened today that I had 75 drops in the game," said Johnson, who has become a bit of a media sensation the past couple weeks.
Johnson made a statement a week earlier with three touchdowns in the Bills' amazing comeback victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. He had more catches, yards and points than Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco combined. Johnson wore an undershirt that read "Why So Serious" in reference to The Joker, a message to the receiving tandem who call themselves Batman and Robin.
Johnson could not laugh Sunday. His magical season was interrupted.
"You talk about a guy who has been extremely hot, making a ton of plays for them," Steelers safety Ryan Clark said.
Drops are not an official NFL statistic and are open to interpretation, but CBS Sports had Johnson down for five. Another drop resulted in a Troy Polamalu interception near the goal line in the fourth quarter.
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesTroy Polamalu intercepted one of Johnson's five dropped passes.
Clark explained there was not a blown coverage on the play in overtime. Johnson was wide open because he ran a fabulous route.
Johnson scorched Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor so badly up the left sideline that even after Johnson dropped Ryan Fitzpatrick's perfect pass, the Bills' sideline celebrated what they thought was their third straight victory.
"Game over," Steelers linebacker James Farrior said. "That's what everybody else was thinking. The Buffalo fans, the Buffalo sideline, our sideline. I think everybody thought it was a catch."
Johnson sat stunned in the end zone for several seconds until receiver David Nelson pulled him up. Johnson took the end zone gaffe hard in the locker room, too.
"If you're not emotional and hard on yourself, then I would question his passion for the game," Bills safety George Wilson said. "But, man, that guy is over there crying his eyes out. He knows how precious those moments are.
"If we want to be one of the elite teams in this league, we have to make the big plays in the big moments. Steve has been making big plays for us all year. That play doesn't make me believe any less in him. He's been beasting out on the field all year."
Johnson did have seven receptions for 68 yards. He leads the Bills with 59 catches for 796 yards and nine touchdowns. Bill Brooks holds Buffalo's record with 11 touchdown receptions.
"No matter what, I want him on my team for the rest of my career," said Bills running back Fred Jackson, who gained 163 yards from scrimmage and scored the lone Bills touchdown.
"It's uncharacteristic of him, and I know that. I know he's going to make plays for us. I'm not going to define his whole season off of that one play."