Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs by defenders Chris Gocong #51 and Joe Haden #23 of the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium on January 1, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Give second-year wide receiver Antonio Brown credit. A lot of people said last week that he shouldn't have been voted Steelers MVP by his teammates. He went out Sunday against the Cleveland Browns and showed why he was a good choice.
Not the best choice.
That would have been quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
But a pretty darn good choice.
"I didn't feel any pressure," Brown said after the Steelers' 13-9 victory at Cleveland Browns Stadium. "Every guy on this team is a MVP. It's not like I have to go out and win the game by myself. I'm just playing football."
In the process, Brown became the first player in NFL history to get 1,000 receiving yards and 1,000 return yards in the same season.
Maybe Brown is a bit more than a pretty darn good choice for MVP.
His numbers are impressive: 69 catches for 1,108 yards, 27 kickoff returns for 737 yards and 30 punt returns for 325 yards. His 2,211 all-purpose yards are a franchise record, easily surpassing the 2,034 that running back Barry Foster amassed in 1992.
"That's a whole lot of yards," linebacker Larry Foote said, explaining the choice of Brown as MVP.
Said Brown, "I'm getting more opportunities. They're putting me in position to make plays."
That would include Roethlisberger, who loves throwing the ball to Brown. Pro Bowl-bound starter Mike Wallace was the Steelers' top receiver for much of the season. Not lately, though. In the past six games, Brown has 25 catches for 482 yards, Wallace 19 for 271.
Brown played Sunday as if he wanted to beat the Browns by himself, figuring in each of the Steelers' three scoring drives on a dreary, windy day on the Lake Erie shore. His 40-yard catch along the right sideline late in the second quarter set up a field goal and brought back a wonderful memory. His 11-yard catch early in the third quarter set up another field goal. His 11-yard catch midway through the third quarter led to a touchdown.
Then, there was Brown's 13-yard catch early in the fourth quarter. It was as good as any he has had this season. Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur challenged that Brown trapped the ball, but replays clearly showed he cradled it with one arm before it hit the ground.
"Focus," Brown said of the play. "I just keep my eye on the ball and make sure I come down with the catch."
Brown makes it sound so simple, but there was nothing easy about that 13-yard catch or his 40-yard catch, for that matter. He trapped the ball against his helmet with his left hand and managed to hold on for the big gain despite being knocked out of bounds by cornerback Joe Haden.
"How'd that look on replay?" Brown asked, grinning.
Fabulous, he was told.
Reminiscent of his 58-yard catch a year ago against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC playoffs when he trapped the ball against his helmet with his right hand to set up the winning touchdown in a 31-24 victory.
"Reminded me of that play, too," Brown said.
Roethlisberger and the Steelers are hoping Brown makes more big plays in these playoffs, which start for them Sunday in Denver against the Broncos. They almost certainly will have to win three games on the road to get to their fourth Super Bowl in seven years.
"We'll be fine going on the road," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "It can be done. We've done it before."
Keisel is among the 15 currently active Steelers who, in 2005, became the first team in NFL history to win three road games and then the Super Bowl. The feat also was accomplished by the '07 New York Giants and the '10 Green Bay Packers. Brown was not on that '05 team, yet has no trouble imagining these Steelers pulling off the trick.
"This is where the fun begins. January football ... We've got that go-hard-or-go-home mentality."
So said the MVP.
I admit it, I'm still having a little trouble with that.
You know, calling Brown the MVP.
I would have voted for Roethlisberger and not thought twice about it. He's the one player the Steelers need most to win. He was playing the best football of his Hall of Fame-caliber career before his left ankle was hurt Dec. 8 against the Browns.
Cornerback Ike Taylor also would have been a fine MVP choice. He received defensive captain James Farrior's vote. Center Maurkice Pouncey could have won it. He received Roethlisberger's vote.
"We have four or five guys on this team who could have been MVP," Roethlisberger said. "Antonio is one of them. He's a great choice."
That does it.
I've got to let it go, I guess.
If Roethlisberger is OK with Brown as Steelers MVP, I am, too.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. More articles by this author