It was an extremely quiet second half for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, who caught five passes for 101 yards over the course of the first 30 minutes of the game, but his lone reception beyond the halfway point, going for just seven yards, was the biggest play so far of the season, as it secured the team’s trip to the AFC Championship Game, their first since 2010—and also the last time the Patriots weren’t there.
It probably wouldn’t hurt to start with the final reception, given how important it was. The Steelers, trying to finish off an 18-16 victory—a margin that was only secured due to a holding call on a successful two-point conversion just a minute earlier in game time—were facing a third and three at the two-minute warning.
The offense and Ben Roethlisberger already displayed a willingness to put the ball in the air on the play before, when Roethlisberger used play-action on second and eight to find Eli Rogers angling toward the left sideline for a five-yard gain. But that was not enough to secure victory.
The Chiefs were out of timeouts by then, but had Roethlisberger not connected with Brown on third and three, they would have been punting with more than 1:50 left on the clock from deep in their own end—the 12-yard line to be precise—and nursing just a two-point lead.
Kansas City did not have an easy time scoring, but they took advantage when the Steelers gave them short fields to work with. Brown’s completed catch on the crossing route, running behind Justin Houston to get open at the right sideline, was a tremendous and underrated play in spite of its individual importance.
Of course, Brown did most of his statistical damage in the first half, and that included a deep completion of 52 yards with Houston trailing him in coverage on third down, Roethlisberger beating a blitz in getting the pass off.
He also added a 29-yard reception with three seconds remaining in the first half from the Chiefs’ 40-yard line. The Steelers passed up the chance at a 58-yard field goal attempt, as well as a Hail Mary, in the hopes of letting Brown’s shiftiness do the damage, as it almost has in the past.
While that might be seen as filler yardage, it will still count in the record books as a 100-yard game, and that is now Brown’s fourth consecutive 100-yard receiving game during the course of the past two postseasons. In accomplishing that, he ties Larry Fitzgerald as the only two players in NFL history to put together such a four-game streak. Of course, Fitzgerald did it all during the 2008-season playoffs, culminating in a Super Bowl loss to the Steelers.
Through two games this year, Brown has 11 receptions for 232 yards and two touchdowns, including three receptions of at least 50 yards. The regular season may be over, but business is still booming, all the way to the AFC Championship Game.