When in doubt, the Steelers know they can just throw it up for Antonio Brown.
The veteran wide receiver was unstoppable, again, in Pittsburgh’s 31-28 win over the Packers.
Brown had 10 catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns, with a couple of the kind of unbelievable catches we’re accustomed to seeing from him.
The last one helped put them in position for Chris Boswell‘s 53-yard field goal to win it with no time left, and showed Brown’s acrobatic ability, as he was at full extension and dragging his feet as he went out of bounds. The win was their sixth straight, and improves them to 9-2.
The Steelers offense wasn’t perfect. Ben Roethlisberger threw a pair of interceptions, there were some dropped passes, and their running game was just good (not great).
But Brown’s the ultimate bailout position for them, and they know they can throw it in his general direction, and he’s generally going to make defenses pay.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. Brett Hundley‘s not going to be the next great quarterback in line in Green Bay.
But he’s at least showing he might be somebody’s, somewhere.
The Packers replacement played his best game since stepping in as the starter, finishing 17-of-26 passing for 245 yards and three touchdowns.
He had two touchdowns (and seven interceptions) in his first five games at the helm, making plenty of people wonder whether there was any future in him. But the Packers stuck by him staunchly (perhaps bordering on stubbornly) and he showed some signs Sunday that he was worth the patience.
He can throw on the move, and has some degree of touch on the deep ball, and given the scarcity of the market, there will always be a demand for guys with any ability whatsoever. The Packers have done good business flipping young backups in the past, and for the first time, it makes you think they might eventually get something for him (assuming they think Houlihan can be the backup in the future).
That doesn’t mean they made the right move ignoring more experienced options, at least in the context of this year’s playoff chances, since they’ve lost five of their last six. But it’s something positive, for the moment, after a month-plus without many.
2. The Steelers defense, by any conventional measure, has been very good this season.
But they’re also obviously missing Joe Haden, and a perpetual problem is back.
With the veteran cornerback out with his broken fibula, the Steelers lack of depth at cornerback has shown itself again. They’ve struggled there in the past, but the guys they have out there at the moment aren’t keeping pace with the rest of the defense.
The Steelers entered the game second in the league in both points allowed (16.5) and yards (287.6), but the Packers were making plays on the edges against them all night.
Haden’s not even the same cover player he’s been in the past, but the difference between him and the rest of them becomes more obvious when he’s not there.
3. It was encouraging for the Packers to see quarterback Aaron Rodgers airing it out a bit during pregame warm-ups. But it also might not mean anything.
Rodgers is recovering from surgery on his broken collarbone, and can’t return until Week 15 against the Panthers at the earliest. But he’s also made it clear that it has to “make sense” for him to return this year, which is a clear hint that he’s only doing so if the playoffs are a realistic possibility.
Hearing about him throwing some longer passes will encourage his fanbase, but it’s premature at this point, after the Packers fell to 5-6.
They drafted him in the first round for his pass-rush potential, because stacking up pass-rushers is part of the Steelers organizational philosophy.
But at one point in the third quarter, he was matched one-on-one with Packers wideout Jordy Nelson, and broke up a pass. That’s not the kind off coverage you expect from a 252-pound linebacker. But he has wheels, and with four sacks and an interception already this year, he’s showing he could be a significant part for them for years to come.
The late helmet-to-helmet hit on Hundley might cost him a little something, but linebackers getting fined is nothing new there.
5. Perhaps you’ve heard, but Packers coach Mike McCarthy is from Pittsburgh.
Which makes it that much more puzzling that he’d try a 57-yard field goal in a place notoriously hard to make long kicks.
That field position advantage helped the Steelers to the touchdown that tied the game at 21, and shifted the momentum of a game the Packers were in much longer than anticipated.