Steelers strong safety Terrell Edmunds knew what New England tight end Rob Gronkowski was capable of and where the ball might be headed with 26 seconds left in regulation and the Steelers trying to dig in and close out the Patriots.
It was the same on the subsequent fourth-down snap from the Steelers’ 21-yard line and the game on the line.
Edmunds, a 6-foot-1, 217-pound, first-round pick, was also aware of the profound physical mismatch those lining up against ‘Gronk’ (6-6, 268) must confront.
“He’s big,” Edmunds acknowledged afterward. “I don’t know if y’all saw me beside him, they probably have a crazy picture. I’m looking tiny beside him.
“I definitely saw him a few times. I’m just glad that we stopped him.”
Quarterback Tom Brady’s third-down throw turned into a throw-away over Gronkowski and Edmunds in the end zone thanks to pressure generated by defensive end Cam Heyward.
On fourth down, Brady went away from Gronkowski and Edmunds and threw instead for wide receiver Julian Edelman.
That one fell incomplete, as well, and the Steelers’ 17-10 victory over the Patriots was at last secure.
“He’s a pro,” Edmunds continued regarding Gronkowski. “He’s one of the best to do it. Him and (Kansas City tight end) Travis Kelce are two of the best to do it. You just have to expect that they’re going to try to throw it to him.
“You just have to rely on your technique. Don’t panic, and trust your technique.”
PHOTOS: Practice - Saints Week - Day 1
The Steelers prepare for the Week 16 matchup against the New Orleans Saints
No. 2 pick James Washington wasn’t panicking, either.
Not when he started slowly after a spectacular spring and summer.
Not when he was benched for the second time this season when the Steelers hosted the Chargers on Dec. 2.
The combat-catch, 32-yard reception Washington made down the sideline against Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty in the third quarter suggested that persistence may be about to pay dividends.
No wonder Washington isn’t about to alter his approach, even after leading the Steelers with a season-high 65 receiving yards on a season-high three receptions against New England.
“Just sticking with it and coming to work each and every day and trying get better,” Washington said. “Just trying to do what I can do to help this team win.”
Fifth-round running back Jaylen Samuels’ perspective was likewise evident against New England.
Samuels said afterward he’d never carried the ball 19 times or rushed for over 100 yards in a game, as he had against the Patriots, even in high school.
He attributed his 19-carry, 142-yard night on the ground and his 30 receiving yards on three receptions to necessity.
“It was a heck of a workload, but that’s what comes with playing running back in the National Football League,” Samuels maintained.
Samuels was running and catching in place of James Conner, who missed his second consecutive game due to a high-ankle sprain.
This time, Samuels’ productivity dwarfed the 28 rushing yards and 2.5 average per carry and the 64 receiving yards he’d managed on Dec. 9 against the Raiders.
“I was more patient, and then the more patient I was, the more developed the blocks were and then I could hit the hole,” Samuels explained.“That was the difference between me playing New England and against Oakland.”
The rookies are starting to figure it out.