KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Based on his limited practice time during the week, Chiefs wide receiver Steve Breaston had an inkling he wouldn’t have much of a role in last Monday night’s game at Pittsburgh.
Little did he dream he’d have no role.
Breaston, the Chiefs’ marquee unrestricted free-agent signing in 2011, was one of seven inactive Chiefs players in the 16-13 overtime loss to the Steelers, the first time in his five-and-a-half-year career he’s been a healthy scratch.
The benching capped a stretch in which Breaston had been targeted by Chiefs quarterbacks just four times in the previous five games. And he participated in a total of 10 offensive plays in consecutive games against Baltimore and Tampa Bay.
As a result, Breaston has caught just six passes for 61 yards this season, matching the number of receptions he had for Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII following the 2008 season.
“It’s probably unexpected,” Breaston said of his lack of playing time this season, “but I’m really not worried about myself. I’m worried about how we can win a game around here. That’s the biggest thing. My situation is smaller than what this team is going through.”
The question is, how does a guy who caught 61 passes just a year ago fall so far, so fast? Breaston, 29, insists he’s healthier than he’s ever been.
“What’s happened a little bit is that he hasn’t made as many plays, so this past game he took the backseat so that we could get a younger player up to see what the younger player could do,” coach Romeo Crennel said .
“He’s a veteran player, and some young guys might have a little more quickness and a little bit more speed, and if you as a coach want to take a look at that speed, you have to make a move. So I did.”
The younger player, rookie Devon Wiley, made his first appearance since the season opener, participating in six offensive plays at Pittsburgh. Special teams ace Terrance Copper got in 13 plays after Jon Baldwin suffered a head injury in the fourth quarter.
Adding to Breaston’s frustration was that he was returning to his roots in the Pittsburgh area, where he was selected the Gatorade Pennsylvania Player of the Year in 2001 as a star quarterback at Woodland Hills High School. He was inducted into the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic League Hall of Fame in 2010.
“It was my first time being back in Pennsylvania playing a regular-season game, so that was difficult, I’m not going to lie about that,” Breaston said. “This season has been a lesson learned. You go through certain storms in life, and you go through storms in football.
“I’m not going to hang my head. I know how hard I’ve been working. I’m not going to worry about that.”
Breaston’s role might increase this week against Cincinnati if Baldwin is unavailable. But if the Chiefs decided to go younger at cornerback when they released Stanford Routt after eight games, why not cut their ties with Breaston and elevate one of the three wide receivers on the practice squad — Josh Bellamy, Junior Hemingway or Jamar Newsome — and see what they can do in a game?
“Well, he’s a good teammate and he knows every position, and he can play multiple positions, so he has some versatility,” Crennel said of Breaston. “Those practice squad guys, they have some ability and they have some energy and all of that, but they don’t know how to play every position.”
So in other words, the veteran who signed a four-year contract worth up to $22.5 million last year and knows every position didn’t get to play any of them at Pittsburgh.
“I’m just trying to do my job and try to make plays in practice, push in practice, help my teammates around me,” said Breaston. “You do your job, be a professional and work. I don’t make those decisions; I go out there and work hard, and I like this team a lot.
“The coaches coach, and they make the decisions. I wake up in the morning and go to work. I do what they ask me to do; I can’t be frustrated.”
Breaston started the first three games of the season, catching four passes for 44 yards. Then he was replaced by Dexter McCluster for two games and double tight-end formations against Baltimore and Tampa Bay. Breaston had a chance to make a big play in the Oakland game but dropped a pass when wide open in the second half, and the Chiefs ended up settling for a field goal that cut the Raiders’ lead to seven, at 16-9.
“I know opportunities are few,” Breaston said, “and when the time comes to make a play, I will make it.”