Fourth-year Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown has already chased down one franchise record in his remarkable season and he may not be done yet.
For Brown’s top-level contributions in 2013, his first year as the Steelers’ true No. 1 receiving option, his teammates voted him as the club’s most valuable player.
The Thursday announcement marked Brown’s second team MVP in four NFL seasons. He also claimed it in 2011, when the former Central Michigan star made 69 receptions for 1,108 yards as the Steelers claimed a wild-card berth.
At 7-8, Pittsburgh needs significant help to make the playoffs this year, but Brown’s output has already surpassed anything he’s done previously. While leading the receiving corps following the departure of Mike Wallace, the 5-foot-10, 25-year-old Brown has grabbed 101 passes for 1,412 yards, the latter number breaking Yancey Thigpen‘s single-season record set in 1997.
As Matt Shetler notes, Brown needs 12 receptions Sunday against Cleveland to break Hines Ward‘s franchise record for catches in a season. That may be a long shot, but Brown’s ability to get big yardage out of the most innocent-looking plays makes him one of the most dangerous receivers in Steelers history.
Brown is also explosive when returning punts, as he’s continued to excel in an area of the game that helped him break into the Steelers’ lineup in 2010. Brown’s averaged a career-best 13.4 yards per takeback this season, helping him surpass 1,000 punt return yards as a pro. He turned in his second NFL punt return for a touchdown earlier this month in a win over Cincinnati
But for all his shiftiness, consistency has been Brown’s defining attribute this year. He’s made at least five receptions in all 15 games, getting 50 yards or more in each. Brown is the only current Steeler to own two team MVP trophies; the last player to repeat was linebacker James Harrison, who won in 2007 and 2008.
It remains odd that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has won Steelers MVP only once in 10 pro seasons, but it’s difficult to criticize the selection of Brown too much. Nevertheless, Roethlisberger has racked up a career-high 4,082 yards on 356 completions, and he’s close to his pro bests in completion percentage, touchdown passes and yards per game.
No matter who you like as the Steelers’ most valuable player, there’s no doubt the passing game under much-maligned offensive coordinator Todd Haley has reached a new level of efficiency this season.
Pittsburgh will likely need the offense to be clicking against Cleveland on Sunday at Heinz Field to have a shot at the playoffs. In addition to needing win over the Browns, the Steelers require losses from Baltimore, San Diego and Miami to avoid missing the postseason for the second straight year.