Dec 20, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) hurdles Denver Broncos safety Josh Bush (20) during the second half at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
PITTSBURGH -- The crazy thing is, Antonio Brown could be having a better season.
Brown's projected stats in a 16-game season with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback: 158 catches, 2,160 yards.
That would shatter NFL records by 15 catches (eclipsing Marvin Harrison's 143 in 2002) and 196 yards (eclipsing Calvin Johnson's 1,964 in 2015). If Brown (currently at 116 catches and 1,586 yards) doesn't pass Johnson, he at least has Jerry Rice's 1,848 from 1995 in his sights.
The football field is becoming Brown's personal candy store.
Going up against one of the league's best defensive backfields Sunday, Brown answered any lingering questions about who the game's best wide receiver is. Maybe things would be different for Julio Jones if Roethlisberger was his quarterback. Roethlisberger keeps getting better, now arguably a top-three NFL quarterback. But watching Brown run routes, you know he's not solely a byproduct of a good system or quarterback.
Brown gets open consistently. There were moments Sunday against Denver when it felt like Brown was going 1-on-11. The Broncos knew what was coming. It didn't matter. Brown took over the game (16 receptions, 189 yards, 2 touchdowns) and carried the Steelers.
Some statistical context:
• Brown is the fifth player in NFL history to have 1,400 receiving yards in three consecutive seasons.
• Brown is the first NFL player with multiple 16-reception games in the same season, according to Elias Sports Bureau. He became the first player since Wes Welker in 2011 to have at least 15 catches, 150 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns in a single game.
• Brown's 355 catches in three seasons is the largest total in any three-year stretch in NFL history.
Brown's recent play is a reminder of how well the Seahawks defended against him in late November, holding him to 51 yards in a Steelers loss.
"If you play this game long enough and you go and get your butt kicked, it's always motivating to get back out there and get opportunities to work on my game and grow," Brown said. "It's good to take on challenging teams with great cornerbacks and great defenses."
Amazingly, on Brown's 23-yard touchdown to seal the game Sunday, the Broncos were way late with safety help. He had one-on-one coverage on the outside. How does that happen? The Steelers' offense deserves some credit for this. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley moves Brown around a lot -- he can play in the slot, on the outside, in bunch formations, and in motion. The Steelers work hard to get Brown clean looks. That can be confusing to a defense.
Brown didn't need a big game against Denver to punctuate his status in the game, coach Mike Tomlin said. But Brown keeps doing it.
"Antonio Brown doesn't need to respond to anything," Tomlin said. "He walks into stadiums and he's Antonio Brown and he made Antonio Brown plays."
Roethlisbeger and Brown are enjoying a chemistry that Steelers fans should savor. This isn't normal. This is rare. And it's not ending anytime soon.
Brown turns 28 in July. Roethlisberger turns 34 in March. Those skill sets are ready-made for a while.