Steelers receiver Brown thriving this year amid constant controversy
Ben Roethlisberger one week. Mike Tomlin the next. This isn't the kind of double teaming Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown expected.
Brown leads the NFL with 61 catches and is on pace to set a Steelers single-season receiving record. He is making everyone in Pittsburgh forget about Mike Wallace. He is living up to the $42.5 million contract he signed last year.
Yet it seems what Brown does along the sideline or what he says off the field constantly shifts focus away from how well he is playing, even during one of the Steelers' worst seasons in a quarter-century.
If it's not his alleged sideline meeting with Todd Haley to seek a bigger role in the offense, it's Roethlisberger publicly telling him he needs to be more accountable. Or it's Tomlin pulling him out of the game for the final series against the Patriots on Sunday for running an imprecise pass route that led to an interception.
“It seems like it's every week,” Brown said Wednesday.
But on a team in which so many are playing so poorly, is Brown getting singled out for too much scrutiny, too much criticism, too much negativity?
“Probably so. But I've got big shoulders. Like I've always said, I'm just thankful to be in the position I'm in, and I'm humble to be part of this,” Brown said. “It's nothing that I can't handle.”
As for Tomlin pulling him for a meaningless series, Brown said, “(I was) frustrated. It's always frustrating when you lose and you're not on the field to help your team win, but I respect the coach and have a great relationship with him.”
It's also not difficult to respect what Brown is doing in one of the best seasons by a Steelers receiver.
He is on pace to become the first Steelers receiver to catch 120 passes in a season. And he is easily the most dependable wideout in the league, catching 61 of the 78 passes thrown his way (78.2 percent); he needs only eight more catches to match his personal high of 69 in 2011.
The Bengals' prolific A.J. Green gets more attention league-wide than Brown for his ability to catch the deep ball, yet he has caught only 57 of the 100 passes on which he has been targeted. Detroit's Calvin Johnson has made catches on 47 of 77 targets; Dez Bryant of Dallas has caught 51 of 87.
“But that's what my job entails — being the No. 1 guy, being the lead dog who is out front,” Brown said. “I've got to will us to win. I just can't be a guy who just seems like he's all about himself doing well.”
To push himself to be less frustrated and emotional during stressful times, Brown wrote out a saying that hangs beside his locker:
“Calmness. To every tempestuous thought, every fearful report, every disturbing situation, I say peace be still.”
“It's just a reminder to keep the calmness within myself, because if you let everything outside affect you, that's when problems result and happen,” he said. “You've got to channel your emotions.”
Especially given the internal and external scrutiny he is receiving.
“If the team isn't winning, they're going to blame No. 84,” Brown said. “I'm well aware of it and comfortable accepting it. ... Maybe I need to take a punt back. Maybe I need to game break more, to help us win games. Maybe what I'm doing isn't enough.”