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Steelers' Brown optimistic about chances vs. Cowboys

| Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, 11:44 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown takes a big hit from the Jets' LaRon Landry but holds onto the ball during the fourth quarter Sunday September 16, 2012 at Heinz Field. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

Receiver Antonio Brown is ready to explode against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at Cowboys Stadium.

He has seen enough film to believe the Dallas secondary can't check him, and he likes what he sees in the Cowboys' punt coverage team.

The only problem is Brown's still-tender ankle. There remains a stinging pinch when he aggressively plants his right foot.

“My body is less than 100 percent, so I can't do what I want to do,” said Brown, who is listed as probable after sitting out Friday's practice with an illness. “I can't make that move to do what's necessary without feeling the pain.”

Brown insists nothing will keep him from going all out in a game the Steelers (7-6) need to win to keep pace with AFC North rival Cincinnati (8-6) in the hunt for a wild-card berth.

Brown is hardly the only Steeler playing with pain or discomfort. That list that includes linebacker LaMarr Woodley (ankle), receiver Emmanuel Sanders (shoulder) and cornerbacks Keenan Lewis (hip) and Cortez Allen (groin).

“We'll all just tape it up and go on,” Brown said. “We won't make any excuses. When I'm out there, I have to be productive no matter how I'm feeling.”

Brown hasn't been as effective since returning Dec. 2 after sitting out three weeks with a high-ankle sprain. He has nine receptions for 93 yards, and he has had few chances to make things happen on punt returns, including nary a return yard in a 34-24 loss to San Diego last weekend.

If nothing else, Brown is feeling stronger mentally.

“You've really got to be mentally strong,” said Brown, who has 51 catches for 592 yards, both third best on the team. “Sometimes your mind can tell you that you're all right, but your body is still less than ideal. You have to be strong-minded and have a strong faith to give the team all you've got.

“As the weeks go on, I'm looking for more opportunities to get the ball in space. I'm able to put my foot in the ground, so I'm sure it's coming.”

Brown said he has positives to show since returning. However, almost nearly every positive punt return has been wiped out by penalties, which is one reason the team ranks 31st (6.7 yards) in punt-return average.

“We've just got to keep it clean with the penalties,” he said. “Last week we had a return for 30 yards that was called back by a foul that pushed us back to the 6-yard line, and we give up an interception.

“It's been really devastating having some good returns called back. It's not about me. It's about the other 10 men, too. As they go, I go. We had two returns called back at Cincinnati and against San Diego.

“I think there are definitely some opportunities against Dallas. They have a directional punter (Brian Moorman) who aims the ball where he wants to hit it. If we can pick out some spots, we should be able to get a couple good returns.”

With the Steelers essentially in playoff mode, the pressure is on Brown to recapture the explosiveness that made him arguably the Steelers' the most-feared receiver.

“I won't say I'm feeling any pressure, but that is the mentality,” he said. “We want to make that splash play to rally the team and get it going to make sure we're in position to win. That's always the attitude when I'm on the field.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com.

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