The Pittsburgh Steelers walk into their Week 1 divisional clash with the Cincinnati Bengals with a little more motivation behind them after the events that transpired last season.
Cincinnati swept Pittsburgh in the regular season, winning their first matchup at Pittsburgh 24-10 and taking the Steelers to the woodshed on their home turf later in the year by a score of 41-10. The Cincinnati offense looked unstoppable in the second matchup, as Pittsburgh couldn’t stop Joe Mixon on the ground or Joe Burrow and his receivers through the air while its own offense sputtered, failing to do more than dink and dunk its way down the field as the Bengals’ defense forced Ben Roethlisberger into multiple turnovers.
After the first matchup, WR Tyler Boyd mentioned in a press conference that he saw the Steelers “give up” as the game went on, criticizing them for not fighting on even when the game appeared out of reach. Other players like Minkah Fitzpatrick were asked about those comments from last season and if they carried any weight heading into the season opener this year. WR Diontae Johnson was posed the same question prior to Sunday’s contest, but played it off as if those comments were a thing of the past.
“Nah, that was last year,” Johnson said to members of the media Friday after practice on video at Steelers.com. “I don’t pay attention to the stuff like that. You know, people are going to have stuff they say, but it’s just how you respond to it. They are just trying to throw you off. And like I said, we just going to go out there and play our game and worry about us and they worry about them at the end of the day. So, man, we just going to play football.”
As a competitor at the highest level of the game you play, it can be extremely insulting to have your opposition call you out for giving up and checking out of a game that is these guys’ livelihood. Players like Fitzpatrick remember those comments and likely use them as fuel for the fire in hopes of getting revenge this time around. However, Diontae Johnson appears to be approaching this matchup with Cincinnati like it’s a clean slate, choosing to shut out the noise and focus on what he can control at this very moment.
For a player that has been met with his fair share of adversity the last few seasons when it comes to several minor injuries as well as the drop saga he went through in 2020, Johnson’s response was a mature, thoughtful answer. A wide receiver often faces defensive backs that try to get inside his head, hoping that on mishap will lead to another and become an ongoing trend. Johnson knows this and would rather approach the situation for an even-keel state of mind, focusing on what they need to do as a team to put forth a better performance than the one they had last season.
Boyd’s comment may resonate more with Johnson than he will let on, but Johnson doesn’t want to show the Bengals that they are successfully getting to his head. We’ll see come Sunday if Johnson’s more passive thought process on the matter makes a difference, but the way he carried himself through the question does show emotional growth and understanding in the veteran wide receiver.