PITTSBURGH — The tweets started pouring in from NFL playmakers across the league late Sunday night.
Golden Tate, Todd Gurley II and DeAndre Hopkins marveled at electric Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown‘s late-game heroics in sealing a win over the Ravens on Sunday with a 34-yard catch by the sideline. Heroics that have become routine.
Can you take a night off?
ALL Other @nfl WR’s trying to catch you. 😤😒😂
— Golden Tate (@ShowtimeTate) December 11, 2017
@AB84 is unreal another game winning reception that’s like 4in a row!!!
— Todd Gurley II (@TG3II) December 11, 2017
@AB84 slow down, I’m trying to catch up sheesh!
— Deandre Hopkins (@DeAndreHopkins) December 11, 2017
Brown replied to each one, and now he’s trying to affect the MVP race one yard and tweet at a time.
A receiver never has won the award, but Brown is on pace for more than 120 catches and 1,800 yards, and his prolific play might sway at least a few voters who are pivoting from the injured Carson Wentz. He has a prime stage to help sway them — Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET against the New England Patriots in Heinz Field.
“If there’s any receiver who could get MVP, it’s him,” Steelers tight end Jesse James said. “Plays that shouldn’t happen, he makes plays on. Balls that shouldn’t be caught, he gets his feet in. He makes the best play look like it’s easy for him. Best receiver in the game, there’s no doubt.”
Tom Brady‘s 109.7 passer rating might be enough to ensure a quarterback wins the award for the fifth straight year and the 10th time since 2007, despite a lackluster outing in Monday’s loss in Miami. Even Brown himself seems resigned to that fate. But that won’t stop him from trying to make it interesting, as Brown leads the league in receiving by 276 yards and counting after his 213-yard explosion on Baltimore.
“I play with a lot of great peers around the NFL — to even be mentioned with those guys is something special,” Brown said. “Obviously, it’s a quarterback league.”
Perhaps the NFL’s first 2,000-yard receiving season would change the MVP outlook. Brown has produced 483 yards over the past three games, so duplicating that output over the final three would get Brown to 1,992. Calvin Johnson holds the NFL record for single-season receiving yards with 1,964.
Brown has done just about everything else a receiver can do. He’s one catch away from becoming the NFL’s first receiver with five 100-catch seasons. He’s nearing 8,000 yards over a five-year span, which hasn’t been done, either.
His three seasons with at least 1,500 yards are tied for second all time, behind Jerry Rice’s four.
Any quarterback who dominated his position in that way would have multiple MVPs. And with a league-high 160 targets (31.8 percent of Ben Roethlisberger‘s attempts), Brown will get plenty of chances to chase records this season.
Roethlisberger is shameless in his reliance on Brown, no matter the coverage.
“I know some people out there say I abandon my reads and go right to AB,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s not always true, but sometimes, who wouldn’t?”
That workload must be viewed through the prism of a loaded Steelers offense stocked with options. Hopkins, for example, accounts for 34.7 percent of the Houston Texans‘ targets, but he also doesn’t have much help.
Brown’s sideline footwork late in games has secured two straight home wins. Defenses are destined to give up a triple-digit receiving night if they don’t sell out in coverage of Brown. The occasional safety help won’t suffice.
Guard Ramon Foster has the same reaction every time he sees a game-clinching play from Brown.
“There’s 84 again,” said Foster, shaking his head. “AB is special. There’s no contest he’s the best receiver in the world.”
That might not be enough to win an MVP, but it’s more than enough to solidify Brown’s case as the most productive modern-day receiver.