Monday, September 21, 2015

Brown can't be better, but he'll try

Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, 10:45 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown puts a move on 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt on a 59-yard reception during the second quarter Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, at Heinz Field.
Athleticism isn't enough. This is what the NFL's best wide receiver believes.
Probably because Antonio Brown could always run faster, cut sharper and bend his body better toward a spiraling football than anybody he's played with or against.
Still didn't keep him from sliding into Round 6 of the NFL Draft.
Still didn't make him the first of those “Young Money” receivers offered a big contract by the Steelers.
Still hasn't allowed him to leave a stadium thinking he's done enough.
“I can be better,” Brown said Sunday.
The great ones always believe they can be better.
The Steelers are fortunate to employ two, and they embarrassed the San Francisco 49ers secondary in a 43-18 victory. Made that secondary seem Steelers-like, actually.
Ben Roethlisberger sent 11 footballs in the general vicinity of Brown, who caught all but two. Otherwise, those 195 receiving yards might have been 250.
But it took until the ninth catch for Brown to grab a touchdown.
Clearly, he can be better.
It's not like Brown has caught 400 passes way earlier in his career than any other Steeler. It's not like he hit that mark in 20 fewer games than Hines Ward.
Actually, it's exactly like that.
And not to downplay the Steelers' four-man 400 Club, but only two NFL players have hauled in as many passes in fewer games than Brown's 72.
So, unless Brown is trying to motivate himself (a real possibility), he should stop saying he can be better.
“He's awesome,” Roethlisberger said. “I don't know what else to say.”
Of course, then the Steelers' franchise player said their All-Pro receiver had come off “probably his best week of practice he has had in any year.” Brown's been through about 120 of those weeks, so perhaps Roethlisberger's praise was as thick as his bombs were beautiful on Sunday.
Or maybe Brown really did unleash his inner Jerry Rice in the days after the Steelers' opening loss at New England.
“Oh, he's a freak of nature,” said Michael Vick, the Steelers' backup quarterback who is a qualified expert on that topic.
“But what I'll point to is him being on the same page as Ben, him knowing all those different details just like his quarterback.
“Yeah, he's gifted. But the athletic aspect of what he does every week comes out because of that work he puts in.”
Before joining the Steelers late during the preseason, Vick presumed he already knew the secret to Brown's success. Brown could dash 40 yards in 4.47 seconds — about the time it takes somebody to sneeze twice.
“One of the fastest guys I'd ever seen,” Vick said.
“But after a couple of weeks around him, I realized he is the hardest worker I've ever seen.”
Vick confirmed Brown's practice work reached another level as the Steelers prepared for San Francisco. Brown's production confirmed that he kept working when it came time to play.
One play best showed how approach and athleticism separate Brown — or at least allow him to create separation.
In the second quarter, he darted behind cornerback Kenneth Acker and free safety Eric Reed and ran under an arcing throw from Roethlisberger. Without breaking stride, Brown curled toward the hashes. Then he shot back to the left sideline.
A collection of beleaguered 49ers chased him and finally knocked Brown out of bounds at the 2.
“Oh, yeah,” Brown said, smiling upon recalling the sequence.
“I had already known, when I beat those guys, I was going to cut across the field. So I knew they were headed that way. I just went the other way so I could get a chance to score.”
Brown didn't, though.
The freak of nature believes he has something to work on this week.
That is what the NFL's best wide receiver does.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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