PITTSBURGH — The first time Jerricho Cotchery walked into Antonio Brown’s house, it was all the newly acquired Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver could do to avoid the exercise equipment scattered across the living room floor.
“It’s like he never stops working,” Cotchery said.
Or ever stops producing for that matter.
In the midst of perhaps the finest season by a receiver in the franchise’s 81-year history, Brown was voted the team’s Most Valuable Player for the second time in three years on Thursday.
Brown won the award in 2011 after making the Pro Bowl as a kick returner and a rapidly developing slot receiver. If anything, Brown has become more indispensable in the interim.
Entering Sunday’s season finale against Cleveland, Brown already owns the club record for yards receiving in a single season (1,412) and with 101 receptions has an outside chance to break Hines Ward’s mark of 112 catches in 2002.
Oh, and he’s still returning punts, including a 67-yard sprint for a touchdown in a 30-20 victory over Cincinnati two weeks ago that kept Pittsburgh (7-8) in the postseason mix.
“Once he gets the ball in his hands, everybody is holding their breath because something usually special happens,” Cotchery said.
It’s an ascension the Steelers bet on in the summer of 2012 when they signed Brown to a $42 million contract extension while Mike Wallace futilely held out for more money. Wallace eventually did get paid, inking a $60 million deal with Miami last spring.
Early on, it appears Pittsburgh made the right choice. Wallace has 68 receptions for 905 yards and three scores for the Dolphins. When the Pro Bowl rosters are announced on Friday, Brown’s name will almost certainly be read. Wallace’s almost certainly will not.
Brown declines to draw any sort of comparison. He and Wallace are friends and two completely different players. Wallace relies heavily on his all-world speed, while Brown’s talents rely on his quick feet and his ability to make things happen in the open field.
Cotchery points to Brown’s near miracle play at the end of a 34-28 loss to the Dolphins three weeks ago as proof of Brown’s unique ability. Trailing by six with three seconds left, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hit Emmanuel Sanders for a 25-yard gain down the left sideline. While his teammates scattered across the Heinz Field turf, Brown hung out at the Pittsburgh 40.
“He was just kind of waiting in the corner while everybody was flicking the ball around, just waiting his turn like, ‘I’m ready, I’m ready,’” Cotchery said. “Then we were just watching.”
While Brown’s madcap dash to the end zone ended when he inadvertently stepped out of bounds at the Miami 12, the list of players who would have gotten even that far is short.
It’s why Brown continues to do double-duty on punt returns, where his 13.4 yards per runback ranks third in the league. It’s a job Brown accepts eagerly even if he’s the only No. 1 receiver in the league who still plays a significant role on special teams.