Chase Claypool led all Steelers receivers with eight catches for 93 yards against the Vikings, but no one was talking about his statistics after Pittsburgh’s comeback attempt came up just short Thursday night.
The 23-year-old made a bizarre decision on the Steelers’ final drive of the game. With less than 40 seconds on the clock and Pittsburgh trailing by eight points, Claypool caught a short pass from Ben Roethlisberger on fourth down to move the chains. He then celebrated the conversion instead of immediately getting up and preparing for the next snap.
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Steelers guard Trai Turner ran over to Claypool and reached for the ball, but unfortunately for Pittsburgh it appeared to be knocked out of Claypool’s hands by either Turner or Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks. Roethlisberger eventually spiked the ball to stop the clock with 24 seconds remaining — Pittsburgh had no timeouts — but Claypool’s gesture had already cost the Steelers precious time.
The Steelers were able to reach the Vikings’ 12-yard line with three seconds left, but Roethlisberger’s pass to rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth fell incomplete as time expired. After trailing 29-0 in the second half, Pittsburgh ultimately lost by a final score of 36-28.
During his postgame media availability, Claypool told reporters that he had to “be better,” but he also believed that a penalty should have been called, presumably on Kendricks for delay of game.
“I got tackled near the hash, did my little first-down point and went to hand the ball to the ref. He had just got there,” Claypool said. “So, even if I got right up and looked for him, he wasn’t there. So, he ran down the field to come get the ball. The ball got knocked out of my hands. That’s what cost us time.
“But I definitely do have to be better. I knew the situation. I know I’m near the hash. I know the ball’s placed on the hash. I gotta be better. The ball shouldn’t get knocked out of my hands. It should be a penalty.”
That explanation probably won’t mean much to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who benched Claypool in the first quarter after he shoved Vikings cornerback Bashaud Breeland and was flagged for a 15-yard penalty. When asked whether he thought the benching sent a message to Claypool, Tomlin said, “We’ll see.”
After watching the replay of Claypool’s celebration, will Tomlin feel the need to send a stronger message to his young wideout?