Stevie Johnson is a receiver that wears his emotions on his sleeve. Making the decision on his own to step into Buffalo's post game interview room spoke to his character after what was unquestionably his most humbling NFL performance.
Johnson had what appeared to be a game-winning touchdown at the 10:38 mark of overtime, when Ryan Fitzpatrick dropped a 40-yard bomb over his shoulder on a 1st-and-10 from the Pittsburgh 40-yard line in a tie game. Unfortunately for Johnson and the Bills the playmaking wide receiver could not hold onto the ball, which fell incomplete.
"How would you feel," asked a visibly upset Johnson. "You go through that whole game knowing you've got a big team like the Pittsburgh Steelers and you've got this kid coming up in the NFL and making plays and all of a sudden when the biggest play needs to be made you don't make it. You feel bad."
The third-year wideout has put together a magnificent breakout season and was coming off his first career three-touchdown performance, but being unable to deliver a game-winning play for his teammates is what had him upset with himself after the team's third overtime loss.
"I'm devastated right now, not because of me, because those guys work," said Johnson gesturing to his team's locker room. "Those guys put in work. The defense stopped them, the offense was moving the ball and they were working. It comes down to that one play and you drop the ball."
Eight minutes after the unsuccessful touchdown play Pittsburgh's Shaun Suisham kicked the game-winning 41-yard field goal in a 19-16 final.
"I talked to him," said head coach Chan Gailey. "He hurts. He's a competitor. He's got a chance to be a very, very good player in this league. In this business, there are two types of people. The humble and the humbled, and if you're not in the first group, you'll be in the second group at some point in time.
"I just told him that's the way it goes sometimes. You can go from the penthouse to the outhouse in a hurry, but how you handle it is the key. He's a good man. He's a competitor. I think he'll come back and that doesn't mean he won't drop another pass, he probably will somewhere. They all do, every one of them do. But he's made a lot of big plays and I think he'll continue to make a lot of big plays. I hurt for him."
Johnson's teammates made sure he felt their support despite the outcome of the play.
"It's going to be hard for him to get over that, but we've got to move on to next week," said Fred Jackson. "That's what I'll tell him and I'll tell him that no matter what, I want him on my team. For the rest of my career I'd want him on my team. It uncharacteristic of him and I know that. I know he's going to make plays for us. I'm not going to define his whole season off of that one play.
"That's what I told him. That play is over with. You're going to make huge plays for us down the road. Don't hang on that one, concentrate on the next one."
But in the immediate aftermath of Sunday's game the passionate Johnson was still beside himself.
"Me? I'll never get over it," said Johnson, who had seven receptions for 68 yards. "I'll never get over it. Ever. The Buffalo Bills will get over it, but I won't get over it. You're a receiver, you don't drop the ball. You go through 15 drops in the game. I won't get over it."
Knowing how much the game in general means to Johnson, his teammates believe it will take a little time for the playmaking receiver to put the play in perspective, but they believe the best tonic will be another opportunity this Sunday in Minnesota.
"Stevie is a very emotional guy so I think right now he's caught up in the emotion of what has happened," said Lee Evans. "I'd like to think that after everything is said and done he gets a chance to look back on it and grow from it. If he doesn't it'll be tough on him, but I think he will. Right now I know it's hard for him."
"Stevie is a guy that we want and we think is our playmaker," said Fitzpatrick. "When we're in key situations I'm going to throw the ball to Stevie. This doesn't change anything now that we had one play that was incomplete. It was a great play call and he ran a great route, killed the corner on his route. We just didn't finish, but it doesn't change anything in terms of the player I think he is and the confidence I have in him."