FOXBORO, Mass. — Want a clear picture of how much damage Antonio Brown can do to an opposing defense? Just pull up the highlights of Sunday night’s Pittsburgh Steelers-Baltimore Ravens game.
Brown was incredible in Pittsburgh’s dramatic 39-38 victory, catching 11 passes for a season-high 213 yards. Five of those catches went for more than 20 yards, including a 57-yarder and a 43-yarder.
His final reception — a 34-yard, over-the-shoulder grab on third-and-4 — set up Chris Boswell’s game-winning field goal with less than a minute remaining.
“Picking out his biggest catches was like trying to figure out which Christmas present to open first,” Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote after the game.
Brown’s heroics helped the Steelers hold off their AFC North rivals and maintain their spot atop the AFC standings entering Sunday’s showdown with the New England Patriots. The NFL MVP candidate clearly has the full attention of New England’s secondary, which saw him twice last season.
“He’s really, really, really good, and he has a really, really, really good quarterback,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said Wednesday. “I think you start with that. It’s tough to contain him. Even if you get two guys on him, staying in front of him is tough. … Then you just see at times if he’s singled, he beats the defender, and that’s a 40-, 50-, 60-yard play right there.”
Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr found that out the hard way Sunday. Brown beat Carr down the sideline three times — including on the aforementioned final catch — resulting in 28-, 43- and 34-yard gains.
Brown has played at a ridiculously high level over the past four weeks, averaging 9.8 catches, 156.8 receiving yards and 1.5 touchdowns in wins over the Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers, Cincinnati Bengals and Ravens. He has 99 receptions for 1,509 yards this season; no other NFL player has more than 88 catches or 1,233 yards.
New England’s defensive backs know shutting down Brown entirely is unrealistic. Instead, they’ll be eyeing a repeat of last year’s AFC Championship Game, when Brown caught seven passes for 77 yards and no scores in a 36-17 Patriots victory.
“He somehow finds a way to get open, and (quarterback Ben Roethlisberger) usually finds him,” McCourty said. “It’s trying to, for 60 minutes, make it tough. You’re not going to probably come out of this game (and) he has two catches for 10 (yards). It’s just not going to happen. He’s too good of a player. But you’ve got to try to contain him somewhat and not let him just ruin the game for you.”
Brown was cornerback Malcolm Butler’s primary assignment in both of last season’s Patriots-Steelers meetings. It would not be surprising to see him handle those duties again this weekend, but Butler was sure to note that covering Brown never is a one-man job.
“He challenges everybody,” he said. “I’ll be on him; everybody will be on him. Everybody will have the opportunity, not just me. We’ve just got to play good football.”
Asked what makes Brown such a dangerous player, Butler replied: “Everything.”
“Speed, heart, strength, quickness,” he continued. “All of it.”
Thumbnail photo via Philip G. Pavely/USA TODAY Sports Images