Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Sammie Coates (14) takes a pass from from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for a touchdown with New York Jets cornerback Marcus Williams (20) defending during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. (Fred Vuich/AP Photo)
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PITTSBURGH -- Watching Sammie Coates play football offers a little bit of everything.
Flesh wounds, drops and big-play touchdowns.
"All I know is, I looked down and there was blood in my glove, and I was like, 'Oh crap,'" said Coates, who suffered a left-hand laceration that required multiple stitches during halftime of the Pittsburgh Steelers' 31-13 win over the Jets.
Coates didn't even know how he got the injury, which sort of makes sense, because his play can be as confusing as it is fascinating.
Coates does wonderful things for the Steelers' offense, then offsets those wonderful things with plays that make you look away and check your phone. He inches closer to stardom, then ducks.
But here's the thing: Through five games, Coates is 26 yards shy of the game's best receiver. He's the Steelers' No. 2 option downfield, and that probably isn't changing this year.
His 139-yard, two-touchdown performance Sunday puts Coates at 421 yards, compared with Antonio Brown's 447. His streak of five straight games with at least one catch of 40-plus yards is one shy of the franchise record.
The Steelers will take that all day.
Then why did his postgame news conference feel like a therapy session?
"I just had to get my confidence back and trust myself," Coates said. "It was a roller-coaster day. It was one of those days I knew I had dropped a few balls."
The drops hurt. There's no way around it, even though the injury clearly affected him late in the first half. Coates had three obvious drops, including one at the goal line that affected his body language enough that coach Mike Tomlin spent a good half-minute with him by the sideline calming him down. Drops plagued Coates coming out of Auburn, so the stigma doesn't help him here.
After the game, Tomlin wasn't about to make excuses for Coates, saying, "The performance was the performance," which he considered up-and-down.
But there was Ben Roethlisberger, continuing to throw to Coates' lacerated hand. And Coates responded with four second-half catches. And not just on go balls and screen passes, as was customary early in the year. He made two plays on deep outs.
Roethlisberger's reactions after those targets can range from chafed to perplexed to hand-clapping in approval.
"To be able to step up with not an easy injury and to feel down -- he hurts as bad as anybody when he drops a ball -- but I want him to know, there's no number [of drops], I'm going to come back to you, I believe in you," Roethlisberger said. "He showed why I should have that faith in him."
On the first drive of the game, Big Ben told himself "chuck it" and threw a dime to a streaming Coates for a 72-yard score. But Coates appeared to hurt the hand late in the first half while lunging for a pass he should have caught. Coates still seems to struggle at times with the timing routes that Roethlisberger loves. He almost made a play on a slant pass to the end zone but appeared to stop on the route too early.
After the miscues, Tomlin told Coates to bury the past. Coates told himself to stop worrying about his hand and play ball. Then, he told Roethlisberger he's still ready to make plays. Roethlisberger told him, "Let's go."
"Knowing I have his trust makes me feel a whole lot better about myself," Coates said. "I'm still growing, I'm still learning."
Coates has taken over the Martavis Bryant role in the offense. Though Coates doesn't have Bryant's length and knack for touchdowns, he's stronger and almost as fast, plus no off-field issues.
Clean up the drops and the route running, and the Steelers really have something.
"Starting tomorrow, I'm working on the stuff I messed up on," Coates said. "Whatever it takes."