Receiver's stock is on the rise
By John Harris, TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Nate Washington was talking about the Steelers' offense righting itself while rallying to defeat the Baltimore Ravens -- courtesy of a hair-raising, close-out touchdown drive -- but he could have been discussing his NFL career.
"We never deliberately get in those type of situations," Washington said. "It's just that no matter what happens, no matter the situations that we're in, we do a great job of picking each other up and standing together as a family."
For every big catch that Washington has made during his four years with the Steelers, there always seems to be an equally big drop that prevented quarterback Ben Roethlisberger from consistently targeting him in crunch time.
But with defenses erecting a force field around Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes struggling with inconsistency, Roethlisberger badly needed another downfield receiver he could trust. For the past two games, Washington has been that receiver.
On the Steelers' final drive against Dallas that led to the game-tying touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Ward, Washington caught three passes for 51 yards, all resulting in first downs.
No longer an afterthought in the passing game, Roethlisberger went right back to Washington at key points during Sunday's 92-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown drive at Baltimore.
Again, Washington caught three passes down the stretch, this time for 49 yards and two first downs, including a 24-yarder to the Ravens' 14.
"I don't get down on myself anymore," said Washington, who was signed as an undrafted free agent from tiny Tiffin College in 2005. "I stay confident. I know there's a lot of opportunities out there to be made. Big opportunities. I just try to stay focused on the game itself instead of dwelling on anything that might have happened in the past."
Asked how much better of a receiver he is now, Washington said his improvement has been substantial.
"Ten times better," he said.
A member of the Steelers' Super Bowl XL championship team, Washington figures to sign a new contract for substantially more than his current $1.4 million salary as an unrestricted free agent after the season. His big-play potential makes him an attractive option for teams seeking a speedy No. 2 receiver who can beat single coverage.
"I still have a long way to go," Washington said. "I still have a lot of learning to do and a lot of focusing to maintain. I've just been trying to make the plays that I can make.
"It's not necessarily about free agency. It's not necessarily about the money. It's just about I look at everybody in this locker room, and I know the opportunity we have this year. We have a great opportunity to get another championship ring if we handle our business."