Kovacevic: Anyone still doubt Brown? Hello?
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For all I care, Antonio Brown can throw a party every time he finds his way to a first down. He can point that football forward, then release it a la the classic mic drop. He can dance the salsa, take a Lambeau Leap, try the Ickey Shuffle and, before he gets back to the Steelers' huddle, whip out a Sharpie and sign a deal to make a rap video.
It's all good.
Because he's that good.
Or is that great now?
One look at No. 84's still-growing 2013 ledger, and it's getting easy to call it the latter:
• His 74 catches lead the NFL, and he has had no fewer than five in any game. This despite the Steelers' offense having virtually no other vehicle through that 0-4 start.
• His 952 yards rank fifth in the league, and 298 have come after the catch. This despite the bubble screen.
• He has made 15 catches of 20-plus yards, third-most in the league. This despite only five touchdowns, a powerful sign of how hard he has had to work to get open for Ben Roethlisberger.
• This one's my favorite: He has made those 74 catches on just 105 targets from his quarterback. That's a 70.5 percent rate and best in the league among the top 10 receivers.
Stop and think about that: Every time Roethlisberger throws a ball Brown's way, and those often travel downfield and into double coverage, he has nearly a 3-in-4 chance of catching it.
I would say it's akin to Calvin Johnson or Wes Welker, except that Megatron is at 54.1 percent and even the possession ace Welker is just behind at 70.1. Oh, and you won't see Brown vanish for an entire half, as Megatron did here Sunday.
Small wonder Roethlisberger is running out of words: “I say it every week, but AB's been so good for us, so steady … I'm not sure what else I can say.”
Well, here's something: Brown is on pace — a comfortable one, at that — to break the franchise's most important single-season receiving records: Hines Ward set the mark for catches in 2002 with 112, but Brown is on pace for 118. Yancey Thigpen set the mark for yards in 1997 with 1,398, but Brown is on pace for 1,523.
Never mind the franchise. If Brown tops 1,500 yards, he'd be just the 22nd in NFL history.
So, AB, how's it going?
“You know, I just want to keep it going, continue to better myself week in, week out,” he was telling me the other day on the South Side. “All I think about is trying to change the outcome of football games, helping my team.”
But there has been more, no?
“I just want to be the best,” he said. “That's all I've ever wanted. I'll keep battling.”
That's all Brown has done, really — one challenge at a time — since the Steelers waited until the sixth round in 2010 to draft him out of Central Michigan, 195th overall.
At the time, he was saddled by a too-small tag at 5-feet-10 and all the standard knocks on MAC players. But even after his teammates voted him the Steelers' MVP in 2011 and management wrapped him up with a five-year, $42.5 million contract, the doubts persisted: He'd scored only two touchdowns. He didn't stretch the field. He did a lot of his damage on returns. He wasn't a true No. 1. The money should have gone to Mike Wallace.
This season, too, there were early doubts: Brown had a sideline barking match with Todd Haley, was benched briefly in New England by Mike Tomlin and has taken all kinds of public guff for a few ill-timed celebrations.
All of it now obliterated, of course, overwhelmed by his actual performance.
Anyone still clamoring for Wallace, he of 44 catches and a single TD since riding his one-trick pony to South Beach?
Even this week, there are doubts about Brown with his pending matchup in Cleveland against Joe Haden, the brilliant corner some are calling the new Darrelle Revis.
It's justified. Haden this season has stoned Megatron, Greg Jennings, Torrey Smith and A.J. Green twice. Last week, Haden and Green each caught two Cincinnati passes.
There will be a mutual respect for the receiver and corner this weekend. At least I think. Haden referred to Brown on a conference call as “smaller than the guys I usually cover but faster,” which sounded like a compliment. And Brown … well, let's just say he seems tired of the topic.
“He's a great talent,” Brown said of Haden. “But we'll see you out there on Sunday, OK?”
With that, Brown whirled around toward his locker stall, evidently finishing our chat with a flair.
OK by me.
Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic
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