Steelers seek group effort to replace star WR Brown
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers will have to pick up the pieces from an emotional loss to the New England Patriots without Antonio Brown.
Coach Mike Tomlin says Brown will miss Pittsburgh’s Christmas Day visit to Houston with a contusion on his left calf. The NFL’s leading receiver left in the second quarter against the Patriots after getting tangled up while trying to catch a pass in the end zone. Tomlin declined to get into the specifics of Brown’s injury and didn’t put a timetable on a possible return.
“I just know he’s out next week,” Tomlin said.Replacing Brown won’t be a one-man job for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The team’s top wide receiver is out indefinitely with a left calf injury sustained against the New England Patriots.
That means it’s up to Martavis Bryant, rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster and others to fill a significant void left by the star wide receiver when the Steelers visit the Houston Texans on Monday.
“(Brown) is always tough because he never misses practice and he never misses games,” Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said Thursday. “You don’t necessarily think about that scenario a whole bunch.”
Brown enjoyed a MVP-caliber season until his injury.
Brown, who became the first player in NFL history with five straight 100-catch seasons, led the league in receptions, yards receiving and was tied for touchdown catches entering the game against New England.
Brown, at 1,533 yards, has more receiving yards than four other teams — Baltimore, Cleveland, Chicago and Buffalo. Coach Mike Tomlin didn’t put a timetable on a possible return.
“I’ll be honest, (Brown), you can’t replace him with one man,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “(Brown) is not human, so we’ll have multiple guys trying to fill that spot.”
Brown left the game against New England early in the second quarter after he became awkwardly tangled in double coverage and fell to the ground while trying to catch a pass in the end zone.
The Patriots benefitted and gained the inside track on home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with their win against the Steelers, though it took a late overturned touchdown and last-second end zone interception to seal the game.
“In a situation like playing against the Patriots, I think if (Brown’s) playing, it would’ve been a different scenario,” Smith-Schuster said.
But that’s not the case. And as a result, the Steelers will need at least one win — maybe two — in their final two games to secure a first-round bye.
“It takes everybody stepping up,” Haley said. “As far as filling the spot, it isn’t a big deal. It’s just making sure guys are doing what they’re supposed to do and making plays when they get the opportunity.”
Brown last missed a regular-season game because of an injury in 2012. He sat out the team’s AFC playoff game at Denver during the 2015 season with a concussion.
In that game, Bryant had nine catches for 154 yards, while also breaking off a 40-yard run. Darrius Heyward-Bey also caught two passes for 64 yards.
“We understand that we don’t have the best player in the league, but we understand that we’re good receivers too,” Heyward-Bey said.
They filled the void last week against the Patriots.
Smith-Schuster, who caught six passes for 114 yards, had a 69-yard catch-and-run in the final minute that set up the final sequence against New England. Bryant also made a one-handed touchdown catch on third-and-goal to give Pittsburgh a seven-point halftime lead.
With Brown sidelined, they will be asked to produce again for the Steelers on Monday against the Texans.
“He’s very important,” Bryant said of Brown. “He’s the best receiver in the league. We always want to have him on the field. It makes things a whole lot easier for everyone. But he’s going to get healthy, we’ll get him back in a couple weeks and we’ll be ready to go.”
NOTES: Steelers CB Joe Haden, who has missed the past five games with a broken fibula, was a full participant at Thursday’s practice. Linebacker Tyler Matakevich (shoulder) was also a full participant on Thursday. Matakevich missed the game against Baltimore, and was used only on special teams against New England. TE Vance McDonald (shoulder) also practiced, while G Ramon Foster missed with a concussion.