Mike Wallace heard the boos. And the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver knew it didn’t have as much to do with the pass that had just clanged off his hands as with the expectations — self-imposed or otherwise — he just can’t seem to meet.
Walking back to the huddle, beating himself up a little bit after failing to hold onto a Ben Roethlisberger heave that would have gotten the Steelers out of an early hole last week against San Diego, Wallace tried not to take it personally.
That doesn’t mean he succeeded.
“I think they’re out to get me a little bit,” Wallace said with a smile.
Then again, the easygoing 26-year-old understands he has no one to blame but himself. Wallace took a calculated risk last summer when he decided to hold out during training camp. Coming off his first Pro Bowl and entering the prime of his career, Wallace didn’t want to leave the Steelers as much as he simply wanted to get paid a little more — OK, a lot more — to stay.
When management balked, Wallace reported less than two weeks before the season started and pledged not to let his uncertain future mess with his head.
It hasn’t exactly happened.
Sure, Wallace is on pace to match the 72 receptions he put up a year ago and he needs two touchdowns over Pittsburgh’s final three games to set a new career-high.
Yet it’s the slip-ups — such as a handful of costly drops and a pair of fumbles — that have outweighed the spectacular. Wallace is in the midst of perhaps the most productive season of his four-year career. It just doesn’t feel like it.
While the former third-round pick has shown the ability to adapt to offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s short-passing game and he’s accepted the fact there are fewer deep shots, he knows he’s done little to calm critics who viewed his holdout as a betrayal.
“Anything I do is going to be magnified, good, bad, it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “I’ve just got to do what I need to do and I don’t give anybody a reason to say anything. Whatever happens I take full responsibility for it.”
And to be honest, he’s OK with it.
“I don’t want nobody to ever say it’s enough,” he said. “I always want somebody to have a knock on me. Always, because it’s always going to make me a better player and it’s always going to give me something to strive for.”
Even if, at the moment, Wallace is content with striving to avoid the kind of mental miscues that have cost the Steelers (7-6) this season. They are, after all, tied with Cincinnati for the AFC’s last wild card spot heading into Sunday’s game in Dallas (7-6) and could be in a better place.