Steelers offense makes do without Brown
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. —Antonio Brown is arguably the spark that ignites the Steelers' offense. So, when he limped off the field in the first quarter with a high ankle sprain, the offense looked lethargic as the New York Giants flirted with salting the game away before halftime.
However, amid the thunderous roars of a jam-packed MetLife Stadium, the Steelers' depth at the flank — coupled with the punishing ground assault of Isaac Redman — uplifted the Steelers to an impressive come-from-behind 24-20 victory on Sunday.
“AB (Brown) is our spark plug. He brings all the energy to the offense,” receiver Mike Wallace said. “He gets us hyped with his first down and touchdown dances, but we knew we had to keep fighting.”
Jerricho Cotchery, who returned here to discover that Hurricane Sandy had spared his home, came through with four catches — equaling his production in the previous seven games.
It was Wallace shaking off another slow start. Like a sprinter, he closed fast and hit his stride with a 51-yard catch-and-carry that narrowed the Giants' lead to 20-17 just 55 ticks into the fourth quarter.
“I was looking at Ben (Roethlisberger) and he was looking at me,” said Wallace, who has nine career touchdowns over 50 yards. “We were on the same page, and he threw the hot (read). I was just trying to get out there because I knew I had to make a play.
“(Brown) is always in my ear. He kept telling me to stay positive when I wasn't getting too many opportunities early. I was mad about dropping a couple, but I had to stay focused.”
Emmanuel Sanders delivered, too, catching his first touchdown pass in more than a year — a 4-yard grab that enabled the Steelers to take a 7-0 lead with 12:09 left in the second quarter.
Then, with Brown and an injured Chris Rainey sidelined, Sanders returned a punt 62 yards. Even though the Steelers failed to score, the Giants were forced to cover plenty of real estate against the pumped-up Steelers defense.
Also, Sanders made a third-and-9 catch with 2:26 remaining.
“It's something we worked on all week,” Sanders said of his third-down catch, “and we got the coverage we needed.”
The Steelers are quick to point out they are a team with depth, particularly at receiver. And that every man is prepared to step up when his number is called.
“We want to be a great group when the game is put on our shoulders,” Cotchery said. “When one guy goes down, I pride myself on knowing all the positions. Once AB went down, I was ready to help the team win.”
Wallace, Sanders and Cotchery combined for nine catches for 140 yards after Brown was lost for the game.
“We have a lot of depth, especially at wide receiver,” offensive tackle Max Starks said. “When Antonio went down, I'm sure people were wondering what we were going to do with the return game and who is our second receiver.
“When Rainey went down, it was just Isaac and Baron (Batch) out there running the ball. There are so many combinations on this team, so that when things happen, guys can rally around it. There are no backups on this team.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7923.