Antonio Brown wasn’t exactly a household name when the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted the speedy wide receiver out of Central Michigan in the sixth round of last year’s NFL draft.
Over the past two weeks, Brown has done a lot to change that.
While not as impressive as his helmet-aided, 58-yard catch in the Steelers’ win over Baltimore in the AFC divisional playoffs, his only catch during Sunday’s AFC championship helped Pittsburgh to its eighth Super Bowl trip. A 14-yard grab out of the two-minute warning on a third-and-6 snap secured the Steelers’ 24-19 win over the New York Jets at Heinz Field.
While Brown wasn’t the first choice on the play as it was designed – Hines Ward was
– the rookie’s ability to get open helped another Steelers playmaker make another big pass.
“We expected (the Jets) to bring the house,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “They dropped everybody, so as soon as I saw them leave, it was a really, really tight window in order to get it to Hines. My thought was: ‘Let’s try and run it.’ I started running to the sideline and next thing you know, ‘AB’ comes flying across the field. He beat them with speed.
“I just threw it and he made a heck of a catch.”
For Brown, his reaction following the game sounded like that of a seasoned veteran.
“They had no more timeouts,” Brown said. “It’s just a great feeling. To seal our victory with the final catch and know that we had an opportunity to waste the clock and get that victory.”
Brown’s path to the NFL saw him post prolific numbers not only as a receiver with the Chippewas, but also as a special teams star, twice winning the Mid-American Conference’s Special Teams Player of the Year award.
His 24-yard return on a kickoff following a Jets score that cut the Steelers’ once-huge lead to 24-19 also played a vital role late in the game, giving Pittsburgh possession at its 41.
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Central focus: Maurkice Pouncey left the game in the first quarter with what was diagnosed as a high ankle sprain. The injury is nothing new to the Pro Bowl rookie center out of Florida.
“I had the same injury before on my other ankle and I know how to attack it,” he said. “I know how to approach things.
“I’m ready. I know in my heart that I’m playing in (the Super Bowl).”
The sprain was enough to knock him out of the remainder of the game and raise questions as Pittsburgh prepares for Super Bowl XLV.
“He’s got an ankle sprain,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “I think to say anything more than that at this point would be premature. But of course, it was such that he couldn’t go back into the game (Sunday).”
Pouncey’s replacement, Doug Legursky, drew high praise from not only Pouncey, but Tomlin.
“I just thought any time that a man steps into a situation like he stepped into today and we were able to play like we played, you just tip your hat to him.
“That effort (Sunday) was kind of indicative of the efforts all year, not only by him, but by others, particularly the offensive line.”
Said Pouncey: “He did really good. He played his tail off. I’m so happy for him. That’s my guy, man. We meet together, we talk about things, we go over game plans. I’m so happy for him.”
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Sack master: Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley became the first player to record at least one sack in six consecutive playoff games when he brought down Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez in the second quarter.
Woodley also became the 10th player with 10 career postseason sacks, and he needed just six games to reach the mark – the fewest for any player since the league started keeping the stat in 1982.
Chicago’s Richard Dent had 10 in seven games.
But there are other numbers that are more important to Woodley.
“This is my fourth year and my second time going (to the Super Bowl),” he said. “It feels great. It definitely feels great.”
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Notes: The Steelers improved to 8-7 all time in AFC championship games with a 2-2 mark at Heinz Field. The
15 appearances are the most in AFC/NFL history. … Tomlin and Joe Gibbs are the only two coaches in league history to advance to the Super Bowl twice within their first four seasons as head coach. … Ward has caught at least one pass in 16 straight postseason games, leaving him one game shy of tying John Stallworth’s team record. … The Steelers have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in
16 straight postseason games, which is the second-longest active streak, behind Washington (17 games). ... Roethlisberger is now 10-2 in the postseason and became the eighth quarterback to start four conference championship games in his first seven seasons. … Rashard Mendenall’s 121 rushing yards were a career high in the postseason and the sixth-most in Steelers postseason history.
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