A rookie season is one filled with lessons learned.
And for receiver James Washington, the biggest lesson he learned came from a play he would likely rather forget.
Against the Broncos, in a 24-17 loss, Ben Roethlisberger threw deep to Washington. Washington dove for the ball, resulting in a dropped pass. Washington knew he should have run through it, something Roethlisberger said he should have done, and something he wish he would have done.
“I’ve always been a guy that it’s my actions, it’s my bed I have to lay in it type of deal," said Washington. "I’ll never run from my mistakes. I like to look at myself as a man and I’ll own up to my mistakes and try to correct them and do what I can do to get better.”
Getting better was delayed slightly. The following week, Washington found himself on the sideline against the Los Angeles Chargers, inactive and not having the opportunity to redeem himself.
“It stunk,” said Washington. “But you learn a lot that week because you’re sitting there watching the game, watching the guys who are playing. You see how those guys are executing in situations that you had and maybe you can take something from. That really got me. It gave me time to think about it and how I could do this better.
“It lit a fire under me. It makes you mad, but you are mad at yourself because it’s about what you do.”
Washington definitely responded. Before the Chargers game he had eight receptions for 77 yards. In the last four games of the season he had eight receptions for 140 yards.
And while Roethlisberger pointed out what he should have done, he also had a talk with Washington that went a long way. A talk that made a huge difference for a young receiver.
“The second half of the season Ben had a talk with me and it really helped me a lot,” said Washington. “It helped me to relax. Playing with Ben…it’s like I’ve watched him since I was a kid and I’ve looked up to him, and now to be on the field with him. Your nerves are high at first and you don’t want to mess up because this guy is going to be a Hall of Fame quarterback.
“I think my production went up after that talk. I was able to be more relaxed and play the game that I’ve being doing since I was a kid. It was good to have that talk. He hadn’t given up on me, because in my eyes it had felt like that. When he told me that it was like a second lung. Every day he challenged me. It was like he gave me tough love. He explained things to me. And he kept believing. I appreciated it.”
Roethlisberger proved that he hadn’t given up on Washington when the Steelers played the New England Patriots at Heinz Field, just three weeks after the Denver game and two weeks after he was inactive. He went to Washington four times and he responded, pulling in three receptions for 65 yards, including a tough 32-yard catch he had to fight for. He admitted that took some pressure off of him, and when Roethlisberger told him on the sidelines how proud he was of him, it was just what the doctor ordered.
“It was a great feeling coming to the sideline and Ben telling me after the game I’m proud of you and the way you finished,” said Washington. “It shows how much I grew from the first time. That meant a lot coming from someone like him. When you have a guy that is like that, I’m willing to do everything I can and work as hard as I need to help him and help this team.”