Prior to the 2012 season, wide receiver Mike Wallace turned down the Steelers’ offer of a 5 year, 42.5 million dollar contract extension. Realizing that Wallace had very big dollar signs in his eyes, they gave that extension to teammate Antonio Brown instead.
With so many decisions from the Steelers front office being questioned and criticized lately, this was one of their trademark strokes of genius (or maybe luck).
I’ll admit it now. At that time I loved Brown’s versatility as a special teamer and 2nd option in the passing game. However, I was worried that his slight frame and good (but not Wallace-like) speed would limit him to always just being a good number 2 receiver. I was (very) wrong.
In his first season after signing that extension, Brown had a solid year with 66 receptions for 787 yards and 5 touchdowns. He did miss 3 games in that season.
This season would be his biggest test though. Brown came into the season without Mike Wallace’s speed to take the top off the defense (and some attention away from Brown). The second biggest threat in the offense in Heath Miller missed the start of the season, and is just not appearing to be back to 100 percent. His second receiver, Emmanuel Sanders, isn’t the most reliable option in the world.
Antonio has stepped up in a huge way. As of this writing, Brown currently leads the NFL in receptions with 80, and trails only Calvin Johnson in yardage (who had 329 yards in one game this season). Brown, who’s been criticized slightly for not being much a red-zone threat also has a solid 6 touchdowns.
That puts him on pace for about 116 catches, 1500 yards, and 8-9 touchdowns. That would surely make Brown not just a pro bowler, but an all-pro selection.
If you’re wondering where Brown stands with some former Steeler greats… Brown will join Hines Ward as only the 2nd receiver in franchise history to notch 85 or more receptions in a season. Hines did it 4 times. He could also possibly break the franchise yardage record of 1,398 yards set by Yancy Thigpen, and Hines’ record of 112 receptions in a season.
Prior to Sunday’s matchup, when Brown was asked if he thought cornerback Joe Haden would follow him around the field, he reponded “I hope so.” Haden, one of the NFL’s best cover corners, was coming off a game against Cincinnati where he limited A.J. Green to 2 receptions for 7 yards, and had 2 interceptions (returning one for a score).
Brown, like he has all season, stepped up to the tune of 6 catches for 92 yards and a touchdown. If Brown can do that to Joe Haden, he can do it to anyone. If the Steelers make the playoffs this season, it will be in large part because Antonio Brown helped get them their on his back.