Steelers WR Antonio Brown, Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes go way back |
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Chris Harlan
Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster celebrates his touchdown with Antonio Brown during the second quarter Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017, at Heinz Field.

Xavier Rhodes knows Antonio Brown as well as any cornerback in the NFL.

As former high school teammates in South Florida, Rhodes built a friendship with the Steelers star long before he became A.B., the All-Pro wideout, commercial pitchman and television dancer.

That familiarity was useful Sunday as Rhodes shadowed Brown around Heinz Field.

“I believe some people are just intimidated by the name and by the plays he makes,” said Rhodes, who works out each offseason with Brown and still sees him as his former classmate from Norland High School in Miami.

The Steelers won 26-9 on Sunday, but Brown had only five catches, 62 yards and no touchdowns, a credit to Rhodes, a Pro Bowl pick last season.

“I was just going at it, being confident in my game, being comfortable in what I do,” Rhodes said. “Just go out there, be physical and play my game. I’m not being distracted by anything he does. If he makes a catch, come back the next play and play my game.”

The two last shared the field in the regular season when Rhodes was a rookie in 2013. At one point Sunday, an official told Rhodes he was holding Brown too aggressively and was flagged for pass interference in the first quarter. But for the most part the officials let them play.

Rhodes was in coverage when Brown made a toe-dragging catch along the left sideline, a second-quarter reception that needed instant replay. Two snaps later, Rhodes successfully forced Brown out of bounds on a deep throw to the other sideline.

“Rhodes is a great corner, a top corner,” Brown said. “A tough matchup today.”

Brown was targeted eight times in the first half and caught only three for 28 yards. He was held without a catch in the third quarter and added two in the fourth when a hip injury limited Rhodes.

“They’re going to throw him the ball no matter what,” Rhodes said. “He’s going to get yards. They’re going to find ways to get him the ball no matter what because he’s Antonio Brown. He’s one of the best receivers in the league.”

But with Brown shadowed, the Steelers offense at times found success elsewhere. Martavis Bryant and Juju Smith-Schuster each caught touchdowns, while Eli Rogers, Jesse James and Le’Veon Bell had four catches apiece.

Bryant led with 91 receiving yards. This came a week after Brown had 11 catches for 182 yards in Cleveland.

“It was awesome, it felt good,” Rhodes said of their matchup, “but the game ain’t all about me and him and our battle. The game is about the team and we wanted to win. So our battle was good, (we) had fun, but at the end of the day we still wanted to win.”

Brown graduated high school in 2006, Rhodes in 2009.

In the visiting locker room Sunday, Rhodes said they never imagined back then they would line up across from one another in the NFL.

“We both didn’t know that we were going to be here, but we’re both thankful,” Rhodes said. “We both give the man above all the thanks. We appreciate everything we have done. We work hard every offseason together. We try our best to be the best.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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