Sports

At Least Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell Were Fun to Watch

Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell provided the juice in a lackluster Wildcard weekend.

by Robert O'Connell
Jan 9 2017, 3:39pm

© Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

This Wild Card round was expected to be forgettable, and it met those expectations. The closest of the weekend's four matchups was a 13-point Texans victory over the Raiders in a "showdown" between Brock Osweiler and Connor Cook; every game was marred by injury, talent disparity, or both. Although Aaron Rodgers and a suddenly volcanic Packers offense capped the slate with a 25-point shellacking of the Giants, it was the Pittsburgh Steelers—specifically the skill-position duo of Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown—who provided the most relief from what was otherwise a gray expanse of deeply meh football.

In Sunday's early game, Pittsburgh beat backup quarterback Matt Moore and the Miami Dolphins 30-12. That margin is misleading; the Steelers looked like they could've won by 40 if required. Lopsided games like this one aren't really instructive, but they can provide a refresher course, and the runaway win reminded everyone watching that Bell and Brown may well be the best players in the NFL at their positions. It was also a reminder that they are an absolute blast to watch.

Less than three minutes into the game, Brown caught a screen pass from Ben Roethlisberger. He bounced on his toes for a moment, waiting for his blocks, and then more or less teleported down the left sideline for a 50-yard touchdown. On the next Pittsburgh possession, Brown cooked a corner on a slant, caught a pass in stride, and zoomed past the lone safety between him and the end-zone; that score clocked in at 62 yards. What little drama existed at kickoff was gone within 10 minutes of game-time. The only suspense was in seeing whether Brown's feet would melt his cleats.

As it happened, Brown mostly went quiet from that point on, but Bell more than compensated. The Steelers' third drive, another touchdown, was comprised entirely of Bell carries in what has become his signature style. He took his handoffs and waited, letting the Pittsburgh line shuffle Dolphins around before spotting a crease and stepping through it. He tiptoed for five yards and then shimmied for eight; he hardly sprinted on any carry. Few football players are better understood by simile than by 40 times, but Le'Veon Bell is one. On Sunday he moved like smoke.

There were big stats, as there tend to be in blowouts like this. Brown finished with 124 yards on five catches and a pair of touchdowns, and Bell toted the rock 27 times for 167 yards and two scores of his own. The most significant number, though, was one: the number of playoff games Roethlisberger, Brown, and Bell have now played together. The Pittsburgh offense hasn't been quite the planet-destroyer some predicted before the season, but—with the caveat of a late and apparently minor injury to Roethlisberger that put him in a walking boot after the game—its principals are in fine form at the most important time of the season. Whether the Steelers go on to upset the Patriots and reach the Super Bowl or bow out against the Chiefs next weekend, they've already done fans a great service, by contributing some star power and old-fashioned awe to a week that needed both.