The Pittsburgh Steelers made some uncharacteristic personnel moves late in the preseason this year when they made not one, but two trades for talent from other rosters, players who have starting experience and have value. They acquired tight end Vance McDonald from the 49ers, and then added safety J.J. Wilcox from the Buccaneers the day after final roster cuts.
Neither of them had an overwhelmingly positive first couple of weeks with the team, as McDonald was best-known in the season opener for failing to hang on to an early third-down pass and drawing a holding penalty, while Wilcox concussed himself on a hit at the goal line late that didn’t even prevent a score.
Both of them ended up being forced to sit out the second game of the season, Wilcox in the concussion protocol and McDonald dealing with a back ailment, but the pair returned for yesterday’s game, and each of them had an important part to play in the tale of the game.
In fact, had the Steelers actually managed to win the game, the roles that some of the newest faces on the Steelers’ roster played would have served a critical function in allowing that to happen.
McDonald’s part in the play was brief, but arguably the most high-profile moment of the entire game, occurring just at the end of the first half. Serving as the right wing protection on the field goal unit, the tight end was responsible for preventing the Bears from scoring a touchdown after they blocked the kick and returned it to the one-yard line.
It was returned to the one because McDonald was able to chase the returner down at that point when he slowed down. He stripped the ball out and ultimately the Bears had to settle for a field goal rather than a touchdown, providing a four-point swing.
As for Wilcox, who rotated in at safety with Mike Mitchell, he was able to intercept a Mike Glennon pass six minutes into the fourth quarter that provided the offense the ball at the Bears’ 21-yard line. Unfortunately, they only advanced the ball seven yards and were forced to kick a field goal.
One might say that the combined impact of these two players then provided the Steelers with a net plus seven-point swing, with McDonald’s touchdown-saving strip adding four points and Wilcox’s field position off the turnover netting three.
Of course, in the end, the Steelers squandered these and other chances and ultimately lost the game in stressful fashion, with Chicago rattling off three consecutive long runs on the opening possession of overtime, culminating in the walk-off touchdown.
These contributions do not necessarily indicate the sort of impact that McDonald and Wilcox are going to provide going forward, but honestly, at least it was something. These are players the team actively sought to acquire, and they did make a difference, albeit a fruitless one this time.