Antonio Brown has stats; wants Super Bowl to define legacy

Antonio Brown has the style and the stats, but he's still searching for a Super Bowl title. Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH -- Antonio Brown can make the most confident cornerback question his occupation. Fantasy owners salute his generosity. Teammates praise his cat-burglar footwork. Perhaps the best sixth-round success story besides Tom Brady, Brown will one day earn residence in the exclusive cul-de-sac of NFL wide receivers alongside Marvin Harrison, Jerry Rice and Randy Moss.

But asking Brown about his accomplishments, at least now, is a nonstarter. After seven seasons, 632 catches for 8,377 yards, and 50 touchdowns, Brown acknowledges that a legacy stocked with highlight plays isn't quite complete.

Championship moments will satisfy.

"The world knows what I can do. It's not all about stats," said the 5-foot-10 Brown heading into the AFC North champion Steelers' matchup with the wild-card (and 6-seed) Miami Dolphins in Sunday's AFC wild-card game. "It’s about getting in that hallway and doing something special."

That "hallway" inside the Steelers' complex on the south side of Pittsburgh features a glass showcase of the franchise's six Super Bowl trophies, none of which Brown can claim. Brown was a situational rookie when the Steelers lost to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV after the 2010 season. Since then, he hasn't played again in an AFC Championship Game.

In the divisional round last postseason, perhaps the Steelers would have defeated the Denver Broncos if Brown hadn't been injured the previous week by a vicious helmet hit from Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. The Steelers lost 23-16 without Brown, who was under concussion protocol.

To hear Brown quantify his title thirst makes this year's developments fitting. Though Brown's production is still otherworldly, his stat line of 106 catches for 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns is down from the previous two years. He has faced constant double-teams while the Steelers struggled to establish a No. 2 receiver.

But Brown's most brilliant moment -- stretching out for a 4-yard touchdown in the final seconds of a Week 16 division-clinching win with two Baltimore Ravens draped over him -- has set a serious tone for a playoff run. Teammates don't want to waste the gritty efforts of one of their smallest yet toughest players.

These days, if you bring up anything related to stats – such as Brown's relinquishing the season receptions crown to Larry Fitzgerald by sitting out Week 17 with the AFC 3-seed already clinched -- Brown hits his best stutter step. He has already tied or won a receptions crown twice, after all.

"I’ve proved I can do all those things," Brown said. "The goal left for me is to win the Super Bowl.”

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin admits it's "awesome" to hear Brown say that. Tomlin had a hand in drafting Brown in 2010 and has watched him develop from a raw route runner to the top of every opposing team's scouting report.

No one appreciates Brown's on-field explosion more than Tomlin, whose star receiver has become the first with four straight 100-catch seasons since Harrison from 1999 to 2002.

But many of Tomlin's private talks with Brown have highlighted the bigger picture and how shiny titles look next to yards.

"How many balls can you catch -- 110, 125?" Tomlin said. "At the end of the day, he's dynamic. He steps into the stadium and he's a guy you better be prepared to reckon with. What he's chasing is a little bit of football immortality. His legacy and those things are always evolving in championships and championship play."

Brown is part of a Big Three on offense – alongside QB Ben Roethlisberger and RB Le'Veon Bell -- but has a unique playoff vantage point compared to the other two. Bell is 24 and, due to injuries, has never played in a playoff game. Roethlisberger has done most of his postseason damage without Brown, winning Super Bowls after the 2005 and 2008 seasons with Steelers greats such as RB Jerome Bettis and WR Hines Ward.

Brown might be the most famous of the three, a marketable star who floods televisions with Madden NFL 17 and Buffalo Wild Wings commercials. From his colorful cleats to quirky nicknames (Ronald Ocean) to end zone pelvic thrusts, fans dig his individualism.

But at age 28 and savoring the prime years of his career, Brown senses championship windows can close quickly.

He plans to take advantage.

"I know what I’m capable of doing," Brown said. "At this point in my career, it’s all about finding a way to do great things to get that Super Bowl hardware.”