It probably does not require much of a stretch of the imagination to conceive of Antonio Brown having a big game for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs. Last night, he went off for 119 receiving yards on seven receptions in the team’s Wildcard victory, in a year in which such a performance would be merely ho hum.
After all, Brown just completed one of the most remarkable regular seasons in NFL history, during which he averaged 8.5 receptions and 115 yards per game. It was for the third-time All-Pro wide out just another day at the office.
But it was also the biggest performance of his postseason career, which now spans six games, three of which came during his rookie season, when he was a sparsely-used sixth-round neophyte buried behind a slew of talented receivers.
Last season, in the playoff loss to the Ravens, Brown had nine receptions for 117 yards, which included a 44-yard pass that came up just short of the end zone, which would have been the first postseason score of his career. But he also was flagged for a facemask, and was the target on the game-sealing interception.
Back in 2011, in his second season, he had five receptions for 70 yards in the team’s playoff loss to the Broncos in the first overtime game ever decided on the opening drive under the new rules that requires a touchdown to end it on the first possession.
But the biggest play of his postseason career remains, up to this point, the huge 58-yard reception that he had during his rookie season, once again against the Ravens, on a third-and-19 play that proved to be the game-winning drive just ahead of the two-minute warning. The Steelers went on to the Super Bowl that year in large part because of that play.
And Brown’s performance last night obviously had a huge part in allowing Pittsburgh to advance back to the divisional round of the playoffs for the first time since 2010. While he was held in check for most of the early part of the game, he orchestrated some of the key plays of the game for the Steelers.
With three minutes to play in the first half, Brown caught a 23-yard pass on second and 25 from the Bengals’ 44-yard line that led to the first field goal of the game.
Later, midway through the third quarter, he had a huge catch-and-run of 60 yards from the Steelers’ 30-yard line that put them on the 10-yard line and led to their only touchdown of the game. it was the longest play of Brown’s career thus far in the postseason.
On the Steelers’ final possession, he caught his last pass for a 12-yard gain on a fourth-and-three play to keep alive a drive that, if ended, would have sealed the defeat. On the following play, he was targeted with a helmet hit that drew a personal foul and put the ball into field goal range, with the Steelers going on to kick that field goal and win.
But the question now remains if Brown, one of the best players at any position in the game right now, will be ready to play next weekend after being diagnosed with a concussion from that hit. While he seemed to be in good spirits after the game, a lot can change from now and then, and it’s hard to imagine the Steelers winning without him.