Kevin Gorman: Steelers star Antonio Brown dialed in on TD streak
Antonio Brown professes to pay no attention to his statistics, and the Pittsburgh Steelers star probably would prefer not to know that he’s on pace for his fewest receptions and receiving yards since 2012.
But Brown is amid a potentially record-setting run, and it’s one worth following when the Steelers visit the Denver Broncos on Sunday. The All-Pro wide receiver has at least one receiving touchdown in eight consecutive games, including a pair of two-touchdown games.
Not that he’s willing to discuss it.
“I’m just looking forward to this game right here,” Brown said. “Every game is a new game. We start with zero. I’m not focusing on the statistics. I’m just focusing on every game and helping the team get better.”
You could say he’s dialed in.
The franchise record for consecutive games with a receiving touchdown is 11, set by Buddy Dial, who compiled the mark over the final three games of the 1959 season and the first eight of ’60.
That is tied with Elroy Hirsch for second-most in NFL history, behind Jerry Rice’s 13 consecutive games with a touchdown catch. So Brown is closing in on becoming company with a guy nicknamed Crazylegs and the greatest receiver in football history.
Where Hirsch scored in the final game of 1950 and the first 10 games of ’51, Rice scored in the 1986 finale and in 12 consecutive games of ’87. But that season was interrupted for Weeks 4, 5 and 6 by a players’ strike, which only makes Rice’s 22 touchdowns even more unbelievable.
What is remarkable about Brown’s touchdown streak is that he’s scoring on defenses designed to stop him. The Jacksonville Jaguars had the NFL’s No. 1 pass defense, and they intercepted three passes intended for Brown last week, including one in the end zone, yet he still managed a touchdown.
“It’s amazing for him because you know what it is and you’re doubling AB and you know what’s coming and it’s given to you every single week,” Steelers cornerback Joe Haden said. “You’re game-planning against him. For him to do that so many games in a row is super-duper impressive.”
What Brown means to the Steelers was on display in their comeback victory at Jacksonville. It started with his 78-yard touchdown catch against Jalen Ramsey in the third quarter and ended with his 25-yarder to set up Ben Roethlisberger’s winning scoring run.
“I’m always trying to prepare for those moments and to excel in those moments,” Brown said, “but it’s all about winning games.”
After five consecutive seasons with at least 100 receptions and 1,000-plus yards, Brown knows that his statistics speak for themselves and that his legacy will be tied to whether the Steelers win another Super Bowl.
It’s no coincidence, as the Jaguars victory proved, that the Steelers have won six consecutive games during Brown’s touchdown streak. Nor is it a coincidence that Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. had a 35-game string of keeping receivers out of the end zone before Brown had 16 catches for 189 yards and two touchdowns against Denver in 2015.
“It won’t be anything like that again,” Harris Jr. said this week.
That’s entirely possible as opponents go to great measures to prevent Brown from beating them. He’s averaging 6.2 receptions and 80.7 yards this season, which projects for a 99-catch, 1,291-yard season, and his 56.9-percent catch rate is the second-lowest of his career.
“Everybody wants a shot at me, man,” Brown said Friday at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex with a smile and a shrug. “That’s just my life.”
Yet Brown is on track to score 17 touchdowns. Not only would that would break his own franchise record for receiving touchdowns (13) in a season, it would break the single-season franchise record (16) set by running back Willie Parker in 2006.
“No matter what,” Haden said, “he’s still going to get his.”
Brown takes everybody’s best shot and keeps on scoring.
That’s just his life.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin at [email protected] or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.