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Catching on

What happened on the receiving end of Steelers' passes in 2021 wasn't out of character with what transpired with the offense in general:

Too often inconsistency was a problem, but the pass catchers also had their moments.

Enough for wide receiver Diontae Johnson to surpass 1,000 receiving yards for the first time (1,161).

Enough for Najee Harris to become the first rookie running back in franchise history (and eighth in NFL history) to produce three 100-yard rushing games and a 100-yard receiving game in the same season.

Enough for Pat Freiermuth to amass seven touchdown catches, which tied for the most by a rookie tight end in Steelers' history and tied for fourth among rookie tight ends in NFL history.

Following is a look back at five of the more memorable receptions among the 425 the Steelers registered in 2021:

No. 5 - Nov. 21, at Los Angeles: The Way They Drew It Up
Freiermuth's 5-yard TD reception and kicker Chris Boswell's extra point turned a game the Steelers had trailed 27-10 in the third quarter into a 34-34 tie with 4:23 left in the fourth.

The remarkable aspect of the play was how well the Steelers executed.

Freiermuth lined up wide to the right initially on second-and-goal from the Chargers' 5-yard line, then retreated and caught quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's pass at the 7.

From there all Freiermuth had to do was follow an escort into the end zone thanks to blocks by guard Trai Turner, offensive tackle Chukwuma Okorafor and center Kendrick Green.

Freiermuth got there untouched.

The final result could have been better (the Chargers eventually prevailed, 41-37) but it's hard to envision Freiermuth's TD playing out any better than it did.

No. 4 - Oct. 31, at Cleveland: Game, Set, Match
The Steelers were trying to run out the clock and close out the Browns when they faced a second-and-9 from their 28 with 1:48 left in the fourth quarter.

They were looking for a first down but got a whole lot more.

Johnson lined up wide right and then cut laterally behind slot receiver Ray-Ray McCloud.

Roethlisberger hit Johnson on a slant at the 31 and Johnson did the rest. He ran away from cornerback Greg Newsome II and to daylight, and didn't stop until he'd gained 50 yards and just 1:39 remained in regulation.

Four snaps later, the game was over and the Steelers' 15-10 victory was preserved.

No. 3 - Dec. 9, at Minnesota: The Penalty is Declined
The Steelers had rallied from a 29-0 deficit in the third quarter to within 36-28 with just over two minutes remaining in the fourth, but there was work yet to be done.

Wide receiver Chase Claypool did some heavy lifting on second-and-4 from the Steelers' 10.

Claypool raced down the sideline and somehow managed to work his way around cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who was between Claypool and the ball. From there Claypool made a two-handed grab of Roethlisberger's deep shot down the sideline and came down in bounds while falling to the turf at midfield.

Breeland was flagged for defensive pass interference but the Steelers took the 38-yard catch.

It wasn't enough to get the Steelers into the end zone and get the game tied before time expired, but that made Claypool's effort no less spectacular.

No. 2 - Dec. 5, Baltimore: He Zigged, Then He Zagged
The Steelers trailed the Ravens, 13-12, but had a third-and-goal at the Baltimore 5 with 1:52 left in regulation.

Roethlisberger dialed up Johnson, and Johnson backed up Roethlisberger's often-stated contention that there's nobody better than Johnson coming out of a break.

Johnson deployed wide left initially and then cut behind Freiermuth, who had lined up in the slot, after the snap.

But what looked like a slant turned into a hard break by Johnson back toward the sideline that befuddled cornerback Marlon Himphrey.

Roethlisberger's pass was actually a little behind Johnson rather than toward the sideline, but Johnson was able to adjust to the ball and then beat Humphrey, who had overrun the initial move, to the goal line. The play became the game-winning touchdown in what ended up as a 20-19 Steelers' victory.

It was Johnson's second touchdown of the night and as representative as any in terms of how he scores them.

No. 1 - Sept. 19, Las Vegas: Matchup Nightmare
Harris' first touchdown as a professional highlighted his potential in the passing game.

On third-and-10 from the Raiders' 25, with 11:23 left in the fourth quarter and the Steelers trailing, 16-7, the rookie from Alabama moved the chains and changed the scoreboard.

Harris worked out of the backfield toward the middle of the defense, then broke hard to the sideline away from safety Dallin Leavitt.

Upon making the catch, Harris beat Leavitt to the boundary and then turned up the field.

A dive to the pylon got Harris into the end zone ahead of safeties Johnathan Abram and Tre'von Moehrig.

The Raiders won the game, 26-17, but Harris was off and catching as well as off and running.