FOXBORO, Mass. — In late November, Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson shouldered the blame for the team’s loss to the Jets, noting that his penalized touchdown celebration cost his team both field position and points.
On Sunday at Gillette Stadium, Johnson proved he still hadn’t learned his lesson, as he was benched in the first quarter following another flagged celebration in the end zone. Granted, Sunday’s antics were far less controversial than the previous one, but they were enough to end his season.
Johnson made a terrific diving catch in the right side of the end zone to give the Bills a 14-0 lead against the Patriots. He then stood up and lifted his jersey to show the fans that he had written “Happy New Year” on his undershirt. Johnson’s teammates, as well as the officiating crew, were not very amused, as he drew a 15-yard personal foul penalty and was benched for the remainder of the game by head coach Chan Gailey.
“I didn’t know it was going to draw a penalty,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, what I did was what I did, and I am going to try and bring in the New Year. Ultimately, it hurt my teammates, and that is the thing that is hurting me the most. The fact is that it hurt my team. The coach told me I was out of the game. He said for the rest of the game, and I have to respect his decision.
“He made it, and that is what it is. I can’t complain about it, or whine or pout. He made his decision, and I am going with it. It really doesn’t matter why or how it happened. At the end of the day, what I did hurt my teammates, and I have to take that and I will.”
Earlier in the season, Johnson mocked a host of Jets after a scoring grab. He did the “Dougie” (the favorite dance of former Jets wide receiver Braylon Edwards), ran around the end zone with his arm extended to mock a flying jet (a Santonio Holmes favorite) and also pretended to shoot himself in the leg (a shot at Plaxico Burress).
After that incident, Gailey told his team he would bench anyone who drew a penalty following a celebration. He said Johnson wasn’t flagged for a similar celebration last year, so Gailey said it was hard to discipline him Sunday, but he wanted to stick to his word.
Gailey was asked how long it took him to get tired of Johnson’s issues that stem from on-field immaturity.
“I got tired of it the first time it happened, but you hope people learn from situations,” Gailey said. “You know, there isn’t anybody who hasn’t made mistakes, but you’ve got to learn from your mistakes. And everybody falls in that category, me too. And I have said this a hundred times — [Johnson] is not a bad guy. He’s not. He’s a good guy, but he uses some bad judgment at times, and if you do that enough and it hurts the team, you’ve got to do something.”
The extra field position didn’t help the Patriots, who punted on their next possession. But Johnson’s benching crushed the Bills’ offense, which scored on its third possession to build a 21-0 lead but never scored again. They were haunted by a bunch of drops, and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was a lesser player with Johnson on the sideline.
It could also be an unceremonious end to Johnson’s four-year tenure in Buffalo. He’s an unrestricted free agent who will have an interesting market during the offseason. Johnson has tons of talent, which was put on display when he got the best of Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis in the aforementioned game, but Johnson’s mental mistakes have sullied his reputation.
At the very least, it won’t help his stock that he spent the final three-plus quarters of the season on the bench.
“I did something that hurt my teammates,” Johnson said. “I know the guys around me put in a lot of work to come out here and go up by 21 points on the New England Patriots. Throughout the entire season, we can all see the work that gets put in, even from the first season that I got here and the guys that have been here, they grind it. To end the season like this, it hurts. And with this one incident, we are not going to say it was the conclusion for the entire season, it was something [Sunday] that I feel I made a mistake for my teammates.”