PITTSBURGH — Moments after wide receiver Diontae Johnson scored the go-ahead touchdown in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ win against the Tennessee Titans on Thursday, fellow Steelers receiver George Pickens bowed his head and ran off the field as his teammates ran to Johnson to celebrate his first touchdown in nearly two years.
Afterward, cameras caught Pickens subdued and frowning on the bench as his teammates continued celebrating. Pickens finished the game with two catches for minus-1 yard. He also nearly scored his own go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, but he failed to get his second foot down in bounds despite seeming to have room to do so.
After back-to-back 100-yard receiving games, the second-year receiver had his second consecutive quiet outing Thursday night. He had just one catch for 22 yards in the loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Asked Tuesday if Pickens has expressed frustration to him, coach Mike Tomlin laughed.
“Heck yeah, man,” Tomlin said at his weekly news conference. “He expresses frustration all the time. He wants to be significant. He wants to be a reason why we’re successful. Y’all don’t begrudge that. I want guys who want the football. I want guys who want to be central reasons why we’re successful and so that’s a nonissue, to be quite honest with you.”
A day after the Steelers’ win against the Titans, social media sleuths took note as Pickens unfollowed the team on Instagram and deleted all references to the team and all posts except a highlight reel from April 2020 from his account. Some social media users also grabbed screenshots of a later-deleted Instagram Story that was captioned, “free me.”
By Saturday morning, Pickens restored many of the Instagram posts to his account that featured the team. He also posted an Instagram Story on Saturday that read, ‘Assumptions lol over a picture. That has nun to do with fb. yall need urgentcare lol”
Tomlin dismissed the idea of any trouble brewing with the receiver when he was asked how he coaches young players like Pickens through adversity.
“Like breathing, it’s easy,” Tomlin said. “I know it’s a cute story for you guys, but it is a pebble in my shoe, to be quite honest with you, in terms of the things that I have to do in an effort to get this group ready to play. This week our focus is on the Green Bay Packers and what we’re all going to do in this football game, and I can’t state it any plainer than that. It’s like reality television, the way you guys follow social media and write stories about it.”
“He expresses frustration all the time. He wants to be significant. He wants to be a reason why we’re successful. Y’all don’t begrudge that. I want guys who want the football.”
Mike Tomlin, on George Pickens
Pickens didn’t talk to reporters after the game Thursday night, and he wasn’t in the locker room during Monday’s availability.
“The season can be a roller coaster sometimes,” veteran receiver Allen Robinson said Monday when asked about Pickens. “It’s one of those things where it’s never exactly how you want it. It’s not going to be easy, and different things like that. So, we’ve been continuing to just talk to him and communicate to him. He’s a significant player in this league, and it’s going to attract a significant amount of attention, and that’s from defense is trying to take him away and different things like that. So just continuing to talk to him and just give him an understanding of that.”
Pickens’ numbers have been reduced since Johnson returned to the lineup from injured reserve against the Jaguars, but quarterback Kenny Pickett praised Pickens after the win against the Titans.
“Credit to him, he takes two guys,” Pickett said Thursday. “The run game’s opening up because of him. There’s a lot of things that he’s not getting credit for right now in the stat sheet, but he’s helping us win football games. He’s helping us have a lot of successful plays. You definitely want to reward him. I wish we hit that one in the red zone on the fade, the slot fade, but continue to try and get him the football as many ways as we can. Just definitely want to appreciate him for what he does to the defenses that opens up everything else.”
Tomlin also confirmed Tuesday that offensive coordinator Matt Canada would remain on the sideline to call plays Sunday against the Packers, and rookie first-round pick Broderick Jones, who started ahead of Chuks Okorafor, would have an opportunity to start again.
After the Titans game, Okorafor told reporters he was benched because he “acted out” at the end of the loss to the Jaguars, and Tomlin said Tuesday that Okorafor’s actions were a “significant factor” in the decision to start Jones. Earlier this season, Jones started in place of injured left tackle Dan Moore Jr., but Tomlin said Tuesday that part of the decision to put Jones at right tackle was because Moore Jr. is “significantly better at left than he is at right.”