Rossi: Brown is nothing special until he does something Super for Steelers

The Steelers' Antonio Brown celebrates a fourth-quarter touchdown Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, at Heinz Field.
The Steelers' Antonio Brown celebrates a fourth-quarter touchdown Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, at Heinz Field.
Photo by Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Rob Rossi
| Friday, Jan. 8, 2016, 7:42 p.m.

Last season, when James Harrison returned to where he belongs, the Steelers locker room at their South Side facility had one established legend and an emerging one occupying almost the same space.

Although Harrison and Antonio Brown are the only two current Steelers to have been selected by teammates as team MVP on multiple occasions, they're far apart in the only space that matters for the NFL's flagship franchise.

That is the second-floor showcase housing Lombardi Trophies. The sixth — and most recent — piece of silver is there because of the pick-and-run Harrison made in Super Bowl XLIII.

The fact is, Harrison has as many Super Bowl catches as Brown.

As an emerging legend, Brown has a lot of work to do.

During the past three seasons alone, Brown has made a case to be considered the best receiver in Steelers history. During that span, his 5,031 yards are only 431 fewer than Lynn Swann accumulated over nine seasons. Brown's 375 catches since the start of the 2013 season are just 162 fewer than John Stallworth amassed in 14 seasons.

Different eras, right?

Same debate, though.

Except that Brown, as confident as he is about his standing among peers, seems to know he doesn't belong in the discussion about the Steelers' greatest receiver.

“It's about individual performance and winning,” he said.

“That's what you learn by playing in Pittsburgh. Everything you do, you need to do it on a Steelers team that wins.”

This Steelers team cannot win its playoff opener — a seasonal rubber match with the Bengals in an AFC wild-card game at Cincinnati on Saturday night — if Brown doesn't do what he has yet to do during his latest, greatest season.

When Ben Roethlisberger was (reasonably) healthy, Brown was the receiving equivalent of blitzkrieg over nearly three months. In those 11 games, he caught 108 passes, gained 1,491 yards and scored 10 touchdowns.

Brown was “limited” to fewer than eight catches and 110 yards only four times.

In two of those games, the Bengals disproved what Big Ben wrote on a photo of himself and Brown that hangs next to AB's locker: “We're unstoppable.”

They are not.

This season, Marvin Lewis' Cincinnati defense held the combination of Big Ben and AB to 13 hookups, 134 yards and a touchdown.

In two games.

Some teams gave up that much to Big Ben and AB in two quarters.

Historically, few teams neutralize the Steelers' top receiver like the Bengals. Brown has averaged six catches and 80 yards in 11 career games against Cincinnati. Hines Ward's average was four receptions and 48 yards in 12 games.

Brown has caught four touchdown passes against the Bengals. Ward brought down 12 receptions for scores, including in an otherwise unimpressive wild-card win in 2006.

In the only playoff meeting between these longtime rivals, Ward caught two passes for 10 yards on Jan. 8, 2006. One catch was a touchdown that started a run of 24 consecutive Steelers points in a 31-17 victory.

A month later, Ward's unremarkable season numbers (by his standards) — 69 catches, 975 yards and 11 touchdowns — became a footnote in the defining performance of his career.

As if you don't remember his Super Bowl XL stat line by heart: 5-123-1.

Being big in the Big Game is what Steelers receivers do. Had Mike Tomlin been Steelers coach in the 1970s or for Super Bowl XL, he probably would have said something like...

That's just Swann being Swann.

You know, that's what John Stallworth does.

I'm not surprised. Hines Ward embraces those moments.

When it comes to Brown, I can't stop thinking about the guy on his side of the locker room.

Something doesn't make sense.

How can potentially the Steelers' best receiver ever have scored fewer postseason touchdowns than the team's oldest outside linebacker?

And how can the Steelers beat the Bengals if that doesn't change by late Saturday night?

They can't.

Rob Rossi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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