"I hurt for him," Gailey said after Johnson had dropped a sure-fire touchdown pass in overtime that prevented the Bills from recording a shocking upset of the Steelers. "(But) in this business, there's 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."
Johnson did not do a good job of handling his misfortune, and how he moves forward from it could determine which way his career goes.
Johnson has burst on the scene this year and has become the Bills' go-to receiver. He leads the team in all the receiving categories with 59 catches for 796 yards and nine touchdowns, but against the Steelers, he had a nightmarish game. While he caught seven balls for 68 yards, he also dropped five passes, none more egregious than a perfectly thrown 40-yarder from Ryan Fitzpatrick that would have given the Bills the victory.
"I had the game in my hands and dropped it, that's it," said Johnson. "I'll never get over it. The team will, the Buffalo Bills will, but I won't. You're a receiver, and you don't drop the ball."
After the Bills were forced to punt on the series when Johnson dropped the ball, he took a seat on the far end of the bench, by himself, unwilling to look at the field as the Steelers proceeded to march for the winning field goal. Once the kick was made, Johnson went behind the Bills' bench and sat against the wall, just below the stands. He sat alone for a minute or so, sulking, until one of his teammates convinced him to go to the locker room.
"Man, he was over there crying his eyes out," said safety and team leader George Wilson. "I went over and said, 'There's nothing you can do about that play. Leave it out there on the field.'"
Johnson met with the media and wore his emotion on his sleeve, and he openly questioned his ability to cope with the bad day. Then, after he had dressed, he sent a message out via his Twitter account that basically questioned his faith in God. To paraphrase, he wondered how God — whom he praises "24/7" — could do that to him.
The former seventh-round pick out of Kentucky is just 24 years old, and as Gailey pointed out, there's going to be days like that in the NFL. Johnson was coming off a career-best, three-touchdown game in Buffalo's come-from-behind victory over Cincinnati, and he spent the week before the Steelers game in the spotlight. He did national interviews and was a popular subject among the western New York media.
Whether all that attention got to his head is unclear, but it certainly seemed as if it affected his concentration during the game.
Interestingly, Buffalo's all-time leading receiver, Andre Reed, was at the game at Ralph Wilson Stadium, and he was in the locker room afterward.
"You're going to drop a few," Reed said. "The great players drop them. Rice dropped them. Sharpe dropped them. Brown dropped them. Carter dropped them. We all dropped 'em. We're not perfect, man. The irony is that it came so fast for him. It's hard to get to that level. He's got to let it go. It's hard to let it go. Believe me!"
Now, Johnson has to learn that lesson and move on, and he will get his first opportunity in Minnesota because Fitzpatrick won't stop throwing to him. The quarterback said the drop does not change his opinion of Johnson, and that Johnson is the team's go-to guy.
"I think I'm the same way since I've been here," Williams said. "I'm going to go out there and play as hard as I can every single time and try to get after those guys, no matter who we're playing."
"They couldn't block him," Bills inside linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "I don't know how many times Kyle got into the backfield, but it was a lot. When he makes plays like that, he can make it a long day for anybody."
With Edwards out, the Bills may have some shuffling to do. It could mean that John McCargo may be active for the first time all year when the Bills visit Minnesota. Rookie Alex Carrington is likely to see some additional playing time, as he did against Pittsburgh when he recorded his first NFL sack. The Bills could move Chris Kelsay to his more natural defensive end position and use rookies Arthur Moats and Antonio Coleman more at outside linebacker. Aaron Maybin might even get on the field. Maybin played a whopping three snaps against the Steelers, and he drew a holding penalty from tackle Jonathan Scott, an ex-Bill.