The situation couldn’t have been more critical.
Rookie Jaylen Samuels delivered.
First-and-10 from the Chargers’ 16-yard line, 4:45 left in regulation and the Steelers trailing, 30-23, last Sunday night at Heinz Field. Running back James Conner had just been assisted off the field after sustaining an ankle injury. Samuels, a fifth-round pick from N.C. State, had just come into the game to replace Conner.
On the next two snaps quarterback Ben Roethlisberger found Samuels.
The first completion produced a 6-yard gain to the 10.
The second resulted in a catch-and-run touchdown that, coupled with Chris Boswell’s extra point, tied the game at 30-30.
“He got to the spots where he needed to be and then made plays with the ball in is hand,” Roethlisberger said of Samuels.
It was what Samuels had been preparing to do all along, and what he presumably will be asked to do more often this Sunday in Oakland.
Conner (sprained ankle) won’t play against the Raiders.
Samuels, veteran Stevan Ridley and second-year pro Trey Edmunds, activated from the practice squad this week, comprise a committee of options for head coach Mike Tomlin in lieu of Conner.
“I come prepared for every game,” Samuels maintained following the Steelers’ 33-30 loss to the Chargers. “You never know what might happen.
“‘J.C.’ (Conner) went down and I had to come and fill his role. I prepare every week like I’m the starter.”
The Steelers prepare for the week 14 matchup against the Oakland Raiders.
Samuels anticipates being that in Oakland.
“I think I will,” he said after practice today. “I don’t know yet for sure yet but that’s how it’s looking.”
Samuels didn’t carry the ball this season until Oct. 28 (in a 33-18 win over Cleveland), and he didn’t catch a pass until Nov. 8 (in a 52-21 blowout of Carolina).
But he was on the field during the first offensive series on Nov. 25 at Denver and he played a season-high 17 offensive snaps against the Chargers (15 prior to the Conner injury).
“Definitely felt comfortable and confident,” Samuels said. “Just being in there every day with those guys (on the first-team offense), I’m getting reps, more reps and reps (in practice), I’m getting way more comfortable.”
Ridley, a sixth-year pro, has been comfortable with his perceived role _ to come out of the bullpen if and when he’s needed _ since the preseason.
“It doesn’t really matter when it is to me,” Ridley said. “I’m just trying to be stretched, loose and ready to go out there and produce.”
Ridley has 18 carries for 56 yards this season. But he has a 1,200-yard season and a 150-yard playoff game on his resume (both in 2012), as well as 3,078 career rushing yards and a 4.2 career average per carry.
And he still feels like that guy, even if it’s been a while.
“Absolutely, and I’m excited to get out there and show it,” Ridley said.
Having the Steelers’ offensive line to run behind will benefit whoever ends up getting carries against the Raiders in defensive end Stephon Tuitt’s estimation.
“If you’re a running back, knowing that you have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and you have an opportunity to play, if I’m you I’m already looking at the places I want to have deals with,” Tuitt said, “because I’m about to look like The Man.”