It wasn’t as creative as playing hide and seek. Or recreating the snowball fight scene from “Elf.”
Still, rookie wide receiver Damoun Patterson did his best to fit in with his Steelers teammates, at least in terms of showmanship, after he caught a 29-yard touchdown pass late in the first half of a 31-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Patterson punctuated his first professional score with a standing backflip.
If his twisting catch in the back of the end zone was a nine in terms of difficulty, Patterson’s flip was a perfect 10.
“I didn’t have a plan,” Patterson said. “I just did whatever came to mind. It just happened.”
Patterson said he did backflips “all the time” during his two years at Youngstown State. The most notable one came in the FCS semifinals against Eastern Washington in Patterson’s junior year. After the Penguins scored a last-second touchdown to go ahead, 40-38, Patterson celebrated with a flip. The Youngstown State sports information department posted a clip of that flip on Twitter after Patterson’s display against the Eagles.
Perhaps it’s fitting that Patterson is now doing flips with the Steelers, who employ such noted touchdown celebrants as Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Le’Veon Bell.
Coach Mike Tomlin didn’t even crack a smile when he was asked whether he’s seen anyone do a flip in a preseason game.
“Man, I’ve seen it all,” Tomlin said. “This celebration group that I have? You kidding me?”
Patterson said his goal in his professional debut was to have as much fun as possible. He got off to a good start, catching six of 10 targets for 77 yards. He left the game briefly in the fourth quarter after being shaken up on an 18-yard reception. He returned to catch an 11-yard pass later in the drive.
Not a bad game for a player who was out of work until the Steelers signed him after their three-day rookie minicamp in May.
“I always try to put my best foot forward,” Patterson said. “I know coming in here as a tryout guy and then signing after minicamp that was enough for me to understand that I have the opportunity and ability to play here. So that keeps me going.”
Among the teammates with a growing appreciation for Patterson is veteran cornerback Coty Sensabaugh.
“He made it look real easy, and for a rookie receiver that’s very impressive,” Sensabaugh said. “But, I mean, I see it every day in practice, but to see him do it when the lights come on ... he’s going to have a long career ahead of him, and I tell him that all the time.”
Solid start for Conner
Until Landry Jones hooked up with Smith-Schuster for a 71-yard touchdown pass on a free play, the highlight of the first-team offense was the play of second-year running back James Conner.
Conner carried four times for 25 yards (a 6.3 average) and caught a pass for nine yards while playing three series.
On the three plays preceding the long touchdown completion, Conner carried three times for 17 yards, helping the Steelers get their initial first down after a pair of three-and-outs.
“I thought he represented himself well in a small body of work,” Tomlin said. “We’ll see. That position is often defined as the game wears on. We know from watching him play in college and stuff that that’s an element of his game. That’s a positive. I like the sample size that we saw.”
Not surprising for a preseason opener, the Steelers and Eagles combined for 19 penalties. The Steelers committed eight, with several coming on special teams.
At least the Steelers weren’t guilty of violating the NFL’s new rule that outlaws the use of the helmet. The Eagles weren’t so lucky, getting flagged twice.
Defensive back Sidney Jones received a 15-yard penalty in the second quarter on a third-down pass from Josh Dobbs to Patterson. This play, plus a roughing-the-passer foul, prolonged the drive and led to Fitz Toussaint’s 3-yard touchdown run.
Tight end Richard Rodgers also was called for lowering his head in the fourth quarter, negating an 81-yard punt.
“We’ve worked extremely hard to adjust, as I’m sure everyone has,” Tomlin said. “But you never know until you get into a stadium environment. It was good tonight. We won’t relax. We’ll keep the focus because those are significant penalties. ... It’s just an interesting point, a significant point to make to the guys, whether it involves us as the guys who got penalized or not.”