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JuJu Smith-Schuster, Martavis Bryant can coexist in Steelers offense

PITTSBURGH -- For a player depicted as self-centered after public and private trade requests, Martavis Bryant turned in quite the team-first performance for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Indianapolis.

The receiver got a two-point conversion when they had to have it. His 19-yard crossing route in a two-minute drill that coach Mike Tomlin called "enormous" helped seal Sunday's 20-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts. And his words matched the effort.

"We didn't lose faith," Bryant said from his locker.

With Antonio Brown producing modestly for the third straight week, the Steelers survived back-to-back road games -- key word: survived -- with timely playmaking from the supporting cast, which has been a theme all year.

The Steelers' erratic passing game is hardly solved, but the roles are now clear cut.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is 1A. With 17 targets, 290 yards and two touchdowns the past two weeks, his role is undeniable. His chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger is growing. The team is 5-0 when he scores a touchdown. His 44-yard snag on the go route was exactly what the Steelers have needed, fighting through traffic to strong-arm a big gain.

"Man, I hope Ben throws me a go ball," Smith-Schuster said as he described his inner voice while bolting down the sideline. "I haven't gotten one yet before. He threw it, all I knew in my head is, 'I've got to make this play.'"

In many ways, Smith-Schuster is making the big plays imagined for Bryant as the team started the year. Bryant was suspended for commenting on social media that Smith-Schuster is "nowhere near" as good as him, but since then, Smith-Schuster's production has been worthy enough.

But Bryant as the specialty option can be highly effective, as the Steelers saw in spurts Sunday. The Steelers made just about every miscue possible on offense, and Bryant still had an impact as the deep ball/reverse/over-the-middle player. If the passing game finally ignites full time -- and that's a sizable "if" -- Bryant will get more big-play chances, particularly over the middle, where he's been underused.

As Roethlisberger walked out of an empty locker room after his news conference, I asked if he'd keep taking deep shots to Bryant. The two have missed on most of them this year, including an interception on the game's second play, in which Roethlisberger admits he threw too far inside.

Roethlisberger said he hopes so, and he'll keep trying.

"I thought he made some plays for us," Roethlisberger said about Bryant. "None bigger than the last one he made. Hopefully, we see more and more every week."

Bryant (three catches, 42 yards) made clear he wanted out of Pittsburgh because of his reduced role, but he has maintained he supports all his teammates and will work hard while he's here. And the Steelers clearly haven't lost faith, with Le'Veon Bell calling him a special player after the game.

Bryant and the Steelers seem to be in a slightly better place than a few weeks ago.

"It's great to win, man. It's been a long road," Bryant said. "Obviously, I've got a long way to go and got a lot of work ahead. It's good to get this win, but now it's on to the next one."

Like most weeks, Brown (three catches, 47 yards) saw a healthy dose of double-teams. When that happens, Brown isn't afraid to tell teammates they need to loosen things up by winning one-on-ones.

That happened Sunday, at least for one half. Sprinkle in a little tight end action with Vance McDonald (two catches, 16 yards and a score) and the Steelers might not be far off from the passing-game balance they seek.

"Everyone can make plays, no matter who's in the game. It shows everyone can get the touches," Smith-Schuster said.