"Whoever is out there, I just have to be my best. Regardless of the opponent, I have to sharpen my tools and make sure I'm on my game."
Antonio Brown has certainly been on his game thus far in 2014.
His quote from Sunday's edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was backed up on the field, when Brown pulled down seven catches for 118 yards as one of the team's few bright spots in their loss to the Browns.
Brown again victimized Cleveland defensive back Joe Haden, who's regarded as one of the best corners in the NFL. But Haden isn't alone as a defensive back having been befuddled by Brown's excellence.
With the NFL record for most consecutive games with at least five catches still humming at 22 and counting, Brown is just two catches behind the Packers Jordy Nelson for the NFL lead. He's also second to Nelson in receiving yards with 629 and is among the league leaders with five touchdown receptions. Coming off of a season that saw him snag 110 passes for 1,499 yards, it's clear that Brown has validated himself as an elite player in this league and perhaps the best player on the Steelers.
But it's not only stats that make Brown's case as an elite player. At 5-10 and 180 pounds, he shouldn't win many tussles at the line of scrimmage with opposing cornerbacks. But yet, mirroring Cliff Branch 40 years ago, he still finds ways to get open utilizing his athletic ability and savvy.
Needing 10 yards for a first down late in the second quarter, Brown ran an out-route toward the sticks, bating Haden as he closed in anticipating a Ben Roethlisberger pass. Brown then made a precise cutback up the field, leaving Haden behind as Roethlisberger lofted a perfect pass to him for a 17-yard completion.
Brown also continues to produce at a record pace despite defenses knowing he's Big Ben's primary target by a wide margin. It's no secret that Pittsburgh is still waiting for a No.2 receiver to step up to take the pressure off of both Brown and his quarterback. Markus Wheaton has played well but isn't yet a true No.2 receiver, while Darrius Heyward-Bey has contributed very little thus far. Lance Moore is finally healthy and should begin adding a new dimension to the offense, which will hopefully shift defenses' attention a little more to the other side of the Steelers' offense.
In the midst of an inconsistent season highlighted by the team's 3-3 start, Antonio Brown has been the most consistent and best performer thus far. He's having one of those special runs in his career, reminiscent of the years Yancy Thigpen had in 1995 and '97 and the four-year stretch Hines Ward enjoyed from 2001-04. Regardless of how this year turns out, Steelers fans should look forward each week to watching Antonio Brown, one of the very best players in the NFL, as he continues to master his position.