Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown’s NFL success is typically measured in thousands of yards, but one of the biggest plays of his career was him stretching for a few inches.
With the Steelers trailing the Baltimore Ravens 27-24 in the final seconds, Ben Roethlisberger threw to Brown just short of the goal line. If Brown would have been tackled at the 1-yard line – and he was being held up by safety Eric Weddle and was hit by linebacker C.J. Mosley – the game might have been over. Pittsburgh had no timeouts left. But Brown stretched the ball across the goal line with nine seconds left, providing the winning points in a dramatic 31-27 win, which gave the Steelers an AFC North title.
The Steelers didn’t mathematically need to win Sunday to make the playoffs, but they would have needed a lot of help in Week 17 had they lost. The Steelers’ big three offensive stars made sure a playoff spot was wrapped up before Week 17.
The refrain for the past few years has been that if the Steelers could get into the playoffs with their three offensive superstars all healthy, they could do some damage. Then an injury or two would always push that off to the next season. Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown are healthy this season and nobody will want to see them on their playoff schedule next month.
Here we go, Steelers.
Sunday’s fourth quarter was a glimpse at how tough the Steelers’ offense can be. The Ravens held the Steelers in check for a long time. Justin Tucker hit a field goal to give the Ravens a 20-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. But it’s hard to keep the Steelers’ star trio down for 60 minutes.
Bell scored a 7-yard touchdown to cut the Ravens’ lead to three. Then the Steelers went 90 yards in 2:49 to take the lead, with Bell and Brown doing almost all of the damage. Bell ran for 23, then 13 yards. Brown had receptions for 21 and 26 yards. Then Bell caught short pass from Roethlisberger and plowed into the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown and the lead.
The Ravens kept fighting. Joe Flacco drove the Ravens into the red zone. Then on third-and-1, they spread it out and Flacco handed to fullback Kyle Juszczyk, probably hoping just to get a first down. Juszczyk bounced off a defender, used his hand to keep his balance and ended up going 10 yards into the end zone for a go-ahead score with 1:18 left.
Then it was Roethlisberger’s time to shine. He took the Steelers back down the field and got them in range to kick a field goal and send the game to overtime. But the Steelers wanted the win in regulation and Roethlisberger took a shot to Brown. That play would have been dissected for a long time had Brown been held out of the end zone and time ran out. But Brown’s stretch brought the Steelers an AFC North title.
Bell has never played in a playoff game. He missed the last two postseasons with knee injuries. Last year, Brown missed a divisional round loss to the Denver Broncos with a concussion. The Steelers have waited to enter the playoffs with all the pillars of their explosive offense healthy.
Finally, we’ll get a chance to see what they can do. Sunday’s heroics might have been a preview.
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