The Pittsburgh Steelers may be the most talented offensive team in football, but in Mid-November, they were sitting at 4-5 with a questionable defense and an even more questionable path to the playoffs. Six straight wins later, the defense has tightened up slightly, the division is now in the Steelers’ hands, and we can once again sit back and appreciate the embarrassment of offensive riches in Pittsburgh — all thanks to one spectacular play from the best wide receiver in football.
Though the Steelers had already hunted down the Ravens for a superior record heading into Week 16, a loss to Baltimore would have all but handed them the AFC North. Both of these teams would face presumably easy games against Ohio opponents, and if they had finished with matching 10-6 records, the Ravens would have had the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Down three points with under 30 seconds left, Ben Roethlisberger put a pass about one yard short of the end zone, leaving three defenders between Antonio Brown and the division title. As it turns out, three guys were not enough against the 5’10, 181-pound receiver.
The final catch of Brown’s 10-reception, 98-yard performance on Sunday night may have been the most significant for his team, but as far as his own stats go, it was just a drop in the bucket — he’s now at 106 catches on the year, joining Marvin Harrison as the only two receivers ever to put up triple digits in four straight seasons. Plenty of other receivers are more physically imposing, but Brown’s inimitable combination of speed, quickness, sticky hands and intelligence has made him impossible to shut down. With Le’Veon Bell once again asserting himself as the best running back in football, the Steelers just need basic competence from their defense to be a Super Bowl contender.
Before we move on to the other winners of the week, let’s take a moment to appreciate the latest installment of the Steelers-Ravens rivalry. Its position against the incredible Warriors-Cavs game may have given it a lower national profile than we’re used to, but it had all the drama we’ve come to expect from the most consistent rivalry in the NFL — and with points this time, no less! Some Mike Ditka types may miss the days of 9-6 bloodbaths, but for unaffiliated fans, this type of game had way more going for it, and we have the Steelers’ transformation into an offensive juggernaut to thank.
Other Week 16 Winners
Tramon Williams: The Cleveland Browns won a game, you guys! It took a bizarre ending full of missed field goals to make it happen (of course), but 0-16 is not going to happen this year. Believeland is back! Williams had a great game at cornerback, with multiple tackles for loss and two passes defended giving him an 84.6 grade from Pro Football Focus, an excellent mark and the highest one for the game on both sides. Williams has of course been part of one of the worst defenses in football all year, but that defense held on by the skin of its teeth when Cleveland’s offense sputtered out completely in the second half. It may have only been one win in a season of pain, but when you looked on that sideline and in that locker room, you knew how much it meant to everyone in that organization — and Williams got the game ball.
Jay Ajayi: Ajayi officially owns the Buffalo Bills. Sunday marked the second time this year he ran for over 200 yards against Rex Ryan’s outfit (we certainly remember the first time he did it), and this time he broke the double century mark in the most significant way you can imagine — a huge run in overtime to bring the Dolphins from inside their own 20 all the way to field goal range.
Miami’s win, combined with other results around the league, clinched their first playoff berth since 2008. Ryan Tannehill’s injury may dampen any hopes for a deep run, but Matt Moore is fairly competent, the running game is clearly elite, and stranger things have happened. Not many, but some.
Dontari Poe: The Chiefs ended the playoff hopes of their bitter rivals in the Broncos, and with the injury situation around the league, they could be the most serious challenger to the Patriots in the AFC. That’s all a big yada yada yada for FAT GUY TOUCHDOWN PASS:
And dressed in red, no less! What a merry Christmas it was.
BONUS MONDAY NIGHT WINNER — Dez Bryant: We don’t normally get to include Monday Night participants in this column, so let’s make the most of this opportunity. In all the hubbub surrounding Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, Dez has sort of been the forgotten man in Dallas. He was injured for most of October, and even when he came back, his production was inconsistent as Dak favored Cole Beasley in his short-passing style. Since his injury, he’s only received double digit targets in one game, but he didn’t need a lot of looks to make his impact on Monday night — not when he was throwing his own beautiful touchdown, at least.
That wasn’t even his best play of the night, either. No, that honor goes to his insane one-handed catch while fighting off pass interference for the score:
With he and Jason Witten still producing at a high level, the Cowboys have elite talent at literally every offensive position. Aaron Rodgers is on fire, the New York Giants’ defense resembles their previous Super Bowl teams, but make no mistake — the Cowboys are still very much the favorites in the NFC with all this firepower.