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Steelers WR Diontae Johnson on lack of hustle following teammate's fumble: 'it won't happen again'

Cincinnati Bengals cornerback DJ Turner II reacts after breaking up a pass intended for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson (18) last Sunday in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson doesn't believe one forgettable sequence defines him as a player.

Still, he knows he needs to do better after he stood idly by during teammate Jaylen Warren's first-quarter fumble last week against Cincinnati, a moment that quickly went viral on social media and — far more importantly — drew the attention of coach Mike Tomlin.

The Steelers were driving deep in Bengals territory when Johnson let a potential touchdown pass get knocked out of his hands at the back of the end zone, a call that Tomlin opted not to challenge.

On the next snap, Johnson essentially stood still while Warren ran in Johnson's direction, failing to block anyone at all. Warren fumbled while being tackled and Johnson turned his back as Cincinnati cornerback DJ Turner scooped up the ball and ran toward midfield before being tackled.

Tomlin suggested Johnson needs to do a better job of keeping his emotions in check, and Johnson offered an apology to his teammates on Wednesday morning.

“I didn't know the play was still going,” Johnson said. “Like I said, if I could make the play again I would tackle the ball.”

While the play ultimately didn't have a major impact in what became a 16-10 Pittsburgh victory , it was the latest example of one of Pittsburgh's offensive skill players having trouble staying engaged.

Second-year wide receiver George Pickens needed to be consoled after Johnson scored the go-ahead touchdown pass in a win over Tennessee on Nov. 2. Mercurial running back Najee Harris has struggles at times to put into words his frustration with the direction of the offense following losses.

Pittsburgh did manage to top 400 yards for the first time since 2020 against the Bengals, an outburst that came days after offensive coordinator Matt Canada was fired and replaced by Eddie Faulkner.

Johnson said he wasn't paying attention to the stat sheet, though for all the progress the Steelers made in moving the ball effectively, they still managed all of one touchdown.

It's a fact not lost on Johnson, who has reached the end zone just once in his past 24 games. He momentarily appeared to have his second of the season when Pickett found him just before the backline of the end zone. Johnson twisted to haul in the pass and got both feet down before Turner knocked the ball loose just before Johnson fell to the ground.

Officials on the field ruled it incomplete, and Tomlin opted not to challenge due in part to how emphatically the back judge made the call. While Johnson gestured to the referees, he also didn't turn to the sideline and ask the coaching staff to take a deeper look.

Johnson said he needs to come down with the ball in the future. He also knows he can't let the outcome of one play bleed over into his effort level on the next.

“A play is going to get to you,” said Johnson, who missed a month because of a hamstring injury and has 30 catches for 385 yards on the season. “But it's up to us to keep playing and not think about the previous play.”

Johnson called standing up in front of the team and owning the mistake “the right thing to do" and believes they understand the sequence doesn't define him as a player.

“I didn't come up playing football like that,” Johnson said. “Obviously it looks bad on film but from here on out, going forward, just need to be smart.”

Johnson's teammates consider it a non-issue going forward.

“I know ‘Tae and I know he won’t let it happen again,” center Mason Cole said.

The Steelers (7-4) host struggling Arizona (2-10) on Sunday.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

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