Steelers notebook: Antonio Brown escapes iron Haden


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CLEVELAND -- Browns cornerback Joe Haden is having an All-Pro-type of season. He has gone up against the game's top receivers and has won more battles than he has lost.

Steelers receiver Antonio Brown leads the NFL in receptions, but he is rarely placed in the company of Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green or Larry Fitzgerald. But maybe Brown will start to get mentioned more often with the NFL's best after catching six passes for 92 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown against Haden in the Steelers' 27-11 victory Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.

"No discredit to Joe Haden, I know he's a good player," said Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who had six catches for 52 yards and a touchdown. "But man, I've been with Antonio for four years. I've been around a lot of receivers. He's one of the best at doing it.

"If you try to come up and press this guy, good luck. You'd be better trying to play him off because he's so quick, and he's fast. I've learned from him and he's learned from me. We're just continuing to get better and we're continuing to show the world, 'Watch out for these receivers in Pittsburgh.' "

Brown's touchdown was a play originally called for Jerricho Cotchery. But Ben Roethlisberger saw Brown had a step on Haden and let loose with a high-arcing throw. Brown had to wait on it and caught it at the 2 before tumbling into the end zone and securing the ball against his chest after bobbling it while going to the turf.

"I peeked outside to AB," Roethlisberger said. "He had a step on him, so I let it fly and he made a great play."

Brown said last week that he welcomed one-on-one coverage against Haden. The way Brown figured, single coverage -- no matter how good the cornerback -- is better than being double-covered.

Brown beat Haden on more than the touchdown pass. He had receptions of 12, 9 and 17 yards on the drive before the Steelers scored.

How impressive was Brown's performance?

Consider this: Haden held Green, the leading receiver in the AFC in yards, to two catches for 7 yards last week against the Bengals. In the previous 10 games, Haden lined up against a Pro Bowl receiver six times and limited them to a combined 17 catches, 147 yards and no touchdowns.

Johnson, who had six catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns last week against the Steelers and Ike Taylor, had just three catches for 25 yards against Haden.

"Each week I'm going to go across from the best," Brown said. "I tip my hat off to Joe Haden, he's a great corner. It was a great matchup and a great opportunity for me to compete with him."

Brown has at least five receptions in each of the past 11 games, which is a team record. He also became the fourth player in franchise history to record 80 receptions in a single season, joining Hines Ward, Yancey Thigpen and John Stallworth.

Gordon sets, ties records

Browns receiver Josh Gordon set the franchise record for most receiving yards in a game and tied the record for most receptions in a game. Gordon had 14 receptions for 237 yards.

Ozzie Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end who is general manager of the Baltimore Ravens, held both records. Newsome had 14 receptions for 191 yards in a game against the Jets in 1984.

It was the best statistical day for a receiver against the Steelers in 14 seasons. Qadry Ismail of the Ravens had 258 yards against them in a 1999 game at Three Rivers Stadium.

Gordon was matched up against Taylor for most of the game. It has been a couple of tough weeks for Taylor, whose job is to shadow the opposing team's top receiver. Last week, Detroit's Johnson had all of his yards in the first half.

On Cleveland's only touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, Gordon accounted for all 78 yards. He caught passes of 42, 19, 16 and 1 yard, the final one a fade to the corner of the end zone to beat Taylor.

"He had a good game," Taylor said. "He had a real good game. I didn't even know he had that many yards. He's a work in progress. He's going to be good in the AFC North when it comes down to receivers. It [can] be like that. You play against top-notch receivers week-in and week-out. I tip my hat to him."

Gordon had 175 of his yards after halftime when the Browns trailed big.

"Honestly, it doesn't mean that much to me," said Gordon, who is in his second season out of Baylor. "After taking a loss like that, it means nothing. It is great for me as a wide receiver to get that experience, but if we can't go out there and win, I don't really care about it."

Troy of old

Safety Troy Polamalu had a sack, a fumble recovery, two forced fumbles and four tackles. He has a sack, an interception, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble in the same season for the third time in his career. He also did that in 2005 and 2010, when he was NFL defensive player of the year.

"Just his presence on the field is enough for coordinators to game-plan against him, let alone when he starts flying around and does what he does," Taylor said. "It's special. We're talking about a future Hall of Famer that I can say I played with. When Troy gets to being Troy and does Troy-like things, it's great for the defense and the team."

Role players pitch in

It was another solid effort by players who were called on to play bigger roles because of injuries. Outside linebacker Jason Worilds again moved from the right side to the left side to play in place of the injured LaMarr Woodley. Worilds responded again with five tackles and a whopping six quarterback hurries. His shoestring tackle attempt in the first half on Browns quarterback Jason Campbell temporarily knocked him out of the game.

Safety Will Allen, who is playing in the dime defense in place of injured rookie Shamarko Thomas, had three solo tackles and a 49-yard fumble return to the 4 that set up a touchdown.

Allen also had a big game last week against the Lions when he intercepted a pass and forced a fumble to go along with seven tackles.

And Ziggy Hood started his second game in a row in place of defensive end Brett Keisel, who had been questionable with a foot injury. Hood was credited with two assisted tackles and was part of a defensive front that limited the Browns to 55 yards rushing.

Injury update

Nose tackle Steve McLendon left the game in the first half with an ankle injury and did not return. McLendon left the stadium in a walking boot.

Reserve cornerback Curtis Brown left the game in the second half with a knee injury. Coach Mike Tomlin said both had to be evaluated.

Quick hits

* The Steelers improved to 24-5 against the Browns since 1999 and are 12-3 in Cleveland in that span.

* The Steelers became the first AFC North team to win a division game on the road this season.

* Roethlisberger improved to 16-1 against the Browns in his career.

* Sanders set a career high with his third touchdown reception of the season. He had two in his 2010 rookie season and two in 2011.

* Defensive end Cameron Heyward registered his third sack of the season. All three have come in the past four games.

* Defensive end Al Woods recorded the first two sacks of his NFL career.

* Game-time temperature was 20 degrees, which tied for the seventh-coldest game in franchise history.

Inactives

The Steelers deactivated Keisel, Thomas, Woodley, outside linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, tight end Richard Gordon, receiver Derek Moye and quarterback Landry Jones.

The Browns deactivated tight end MarQueis Gray, linebacker Craig Robertson, defensive lineman Armonty Bryant and offensive linemen Patrick Lewis, Martin Wallace, Garrett Gilkey and Reid Fragel.


Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.

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