Something that I have talked about pretty much since Antonio Brown suffered his calf injury in the first half of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ game against the New England Patriots in Week 15 is the fact that we have seen a number of players step up in his absence to try to shoulder some of the load.
While it was only two and a half games’ worth of slack that needed to be picked up, it is nonetheless commendable how the rest of the wide receiver group in particular, but also members from other position groups, performed in the receiving game while their All-Pro top dog was down.
Rookie second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster was obviously the highlight, as he should be, given that he is the other starting wide receiver on the game, but he was at his best when Brown was out. In the final three games of the season, the six-year old caught 21 passes for 332 yards and two touchdowns. He had at least six receptions for 75 yards in each of the three games.
Martavis Bryant also found renewed importance in Brown’s absence, and he ended up with 13 receptions for 184 yards and a touchdown over the course of the final three games. Even Eli Rogers and Justin Hunter, largely the forgotten men, contributed each with a touchdown. For the latter, it was his first with the team, and for the former, his second of the season.
Brown was highly impressed, and gratified, by the work that his peers put in while he was unable to be out there on the field with them, as he told reporters following his first real return to practice yesterday since his injury.
“I think the young guys did a great job stepping up and making plays”, he said in the locker room. “Buying some time with the victory with the bye week. Those guys have been dynamic putting points on the board and coming through for the team”.
But Brown has not been particularly accustomed to being sidelined. In his professional career, he had only previously suffered two injuries that caused him to miss time. In his third season, debuting as a full-time starter, he suffered an ankle injury that kept him out for three games in 2011. He also missed the Divisional Round in the 2015 season after receiving a concussion.
“Being injured is not fun. Especially not knowing. I am grateful to be here today”, he said after finally getting back out on the practice field with his teammates. “I never count myself out, regardless of circumstances. I know playing football you are going to have to have adversity and have to grow from it”.