By the 10 minute mark of the fourth quarter, the Pittsburgh Steelers really were not even in the game against the New Orleans Saints any more. Drew Brees had just thrown his fifth touchdown pass to a fifth different receiver to put the home team in a 35-16 hole that seemed impossible to climb out of.
But Antonio Brown almost made it seem possible with his two touchdown receptions, plus a two-point conversion, in the last three minutes of the game. He finished his day with nine receptions for 91 yards and two touchdowns, the fourth multiple-touchdown game of the season for him.
Those numbers put him ahead of all wide receivers in all three categories entering the final four games with 96 receptions, 1258 yards, and 11 touchdowns on the season, on pace for his best year, and just a historically great year in general.
But it’s not just the numbers that make him great, as he does just about everything short of blocking on a consistent basis. While he has a drop every now and then—virtually everybody does, and nobody is targeted more frequently—he has been very reliable on third down, and Ben Roethlisberger tested that theory less than a minute into the game on third and seven.
The Steelers presented a three wide look with Brown in the slot, motioning pre-snap from the left to the right side of the formation. Brown beat the slot corner by curling his route to the sideline short of the first down and using his quickness to shake the tackle attempt, diving for eight yards to keep the chains moving.
His longest play of the day came on the next drive, and was another third and long, this time with eight yards to go. Brown was off formation bunched on the line with Lance Moore tucked behind to his left. The receivers forced the two corners to switch coverage as Brown cut behind Patrick Robinson for a 21-yard gain.
With the Steelers in dire shape, down 21-6, Brown provided a lift with a 16-yard reception down to the goal line. With Le’Veon Bell drawing coverage away as he sat down in the flat, Brown was able to tuck in between the linebacker and safety for an uncommonly easy red zone reception.
As aforementioned, he finished the day extending his career-high season total in touchdowns by adding a pair late in the game, both of them in key goal to go scenarios. On this first one, he beat a familiar opponent in Keenan Lewis with a sharp, late-breaking route inside. As soon as Brown had the inside position, it was already over.
The second touchdown was even more impressive, faking a cross to the middle of the field before slipping behind the defender for what proved to be an easy score. If you can, just take a look at where the other defenders are positioned in relation to Brown when he fields the pass. That’s wide open on a goal line play, without the aid of any false run keys.