A HOTEL ROOM IN RHODE ISLAND – About a half hour after Sunday night’s game ended, Sammie Coates was one of the few Steelers remaining on one far side of the visitor’s locker room at Gillette Stadium.
A season that was showing such immense promise for the gifted second-year player had just ended. And fair to say, on an individual basis, it has not trended the proper direction for Coates.
“I’m about to go get ready to go back to work,” the receiver said of approaching the offseason. “I need it; I gotta get healthy and go from there.”
That Coates had what was easily his most productive game in more than three months would be a positive way to head into the offseason if it wasn’t for the fact that “most productive game in more than three months” meant a stat line of two catches on five targets for 34 yards.
In September, that was a good quarter from Coates. It turned into roughly what he’d produce offensively over a 13-week span. Combined.
After a first month of the season in which he had a remarkable six catches of 40 or more yards in the Steelers’ first five games – incredibly, that held up all season to tie for the NFL lead – some broken fingers suffered in what was a career-best game (six catches, 139 yards, two touchdowns) against the Jets on Oct. 9 completely torpedoed Coates’ once-promising season.
Until Sunday, Coates over an 11-game span (including playoffs) since the Jets game put up this rancid stat line: 18 targets, 2 receptions, 14 yards. Steelers quarterbacks had a passer rating of 16.4 when throwing to him after the Jets game after posting a 126.8 rating when throwing to him over Weeks 1-5 games.
The fingers, two of which he said were broken, quite obviously affected Coates. A late-season hamstring injury didn’t help. After being the Steelers’ No. 2 offensive threat (behind Antonio Brown) as well as one of the NFL’s top deep threats in September, Coates was relegated to special teams-only duty over the first two games of the postseason.
“I got hurt and I kind of lost my (feel) for this offense because I wasn’t going to play and it kind of threw me off,” Coates said Sunday. “I lost my focus, and it went downhill from there.
“I’ve got to grow up; I’ve got to be a better player when it comes to that. I’ve got to grow from it and just continue to be on the rise.”
Coates had more catches and targets in the AFC championship than at any point since his fingers were injured, and he played more offensive snaps (16) against the Patriots than he had in a game in over a month. Coates confirmed that he knew he throughout the week that he was going to be a bigger part of the gameplan in Foxboro than he’d been in recent weeks.
“I knew I was gonna have an opportunity to make plays,” Coates said.
Coates potentially could have been one of the game’s biggest heroes had he made a play on his first chance to. Three Steelers’ offensive snaps into the contest, Ben Roethlisberger on a third-and-1 went deep down the left sideline to Coates, who was in man coverage and had half a step on Patriots defensive back Eric Rowe.
About 35 yards downfield with a potential touchdown for the taking if he makes the catch… the ball flew through Coates’ fingertips.
Some said a pass interference flag could have been thrown on the play (Rowe’s hand grazes over Coates’ outstretched arm well before the ball arrives), but Coates downplayed that.
“I just misjudged ball,” Coates said. “I had a bad read on it, and I kind of thought it was just falling and… just left the play on the field.”
Coates wasn’t doing much of that (leaving plays on the field) over the first third of the regular season, when he was a dynamic playmaker. For a team that struggled to find a No. 2 option at WR all year long, Coates regaining that form in 2017 will be quite the offseason, training camp and preseason storyline to watch.
Speaking of the offseason, enjoy it as much as you can. Thanks for reading along all year. But in the NFL, of course, there is no offseason.