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Despite being traditionally heralded as a run-first, pass-later offensive football team, two Steeler wide receivers in particular, rookies Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, are making an immediate impact on the field.
While Brown had 16 receptions in the regular season for 167 yards, good enough for a 10.4 average, his 58-yard reception versus Baltimore set up a game-winning touchdown. The following week, Brown had a 14-yard reception at the end of the game that enabled the Steelers to kneel the ball and earn their third Super Bowl trip in six seasons.
All in all, Brown has four receptions for 89 yards in the playoffs.
His counterpart, Emmanuel Sanders, has put up equally impressive numbers, 28 catches for 376 yards with two scores in the regular season and five receptions for 74 yards in the playoffs.
With lightning fast speed (4.4 sec. 40-yard dash) and reliable hands, Sanders, along with fellow wide receiver Mike Wallace, seemingly made Pittsburgh fans forget all about Jets wide receiver and Super Bowl XLIII hero Santonio Holmes.
With a play here and a play there, expect the Steelers' two rookie wide receiver standouts to be the difference maker in the big show for the Lombardi trophy.
Just for fun, looking at a comparison in regard to rookie seasons, Brown and Sanders both match up nicely with Stallworth's and Swann's freshman seasons: Swann had 11 catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games as a rookie; Stallworth's first season garnered him 16 receptions for 269 yards and one touchdown in 13 games.
Despite being partial to the run, in several of the Super Bowls the Steelers have played in, wide receivers made game-changing plays that are remembered for years to come:
In Super Bowl X, Steelers great Lynn Swann became the first wide receiver to win the game's MVP award. Swann finished with four receptions for a Super Bowl record 161 yards and one touchdown. His stellar play was captivated by a diving catch after tripping over Mark Washington, a cornerback for the Dallas Cowboys, during the second quarter.
In Super Bowl XIII, Steeler wide receiver John Stallworth caught a 28-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and a 75-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. Stallworth was complemented by Swann who grabbed an 18-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
In Super Bowl XIV, Stallworth led all receivers with three receptions for 121 yards and a score, averaging 40.3 yards per catch. His TD put the Steelers ahead for good in the game. Stallworth's counterpart, Swann, finished with five catches for 79 yards and a touchdown.
In Super Bowl XL, Hines Ward caught five passes for 123 yards and was on the receiving end of a 43-yard wide receiver reverse pass from Antwaan Randle El that resulted in a touchdown.
We all know the story of Super Bowl XLIII as Santonio Holmes became the third Steeler to earn the Super Bowl MVP award with nine catches for 131 yards and catch the winning touchdown pass with 35 seconds on the clock. A big-play receiver, Holmes caught four passes for 71 yards on the final drive.
With a history full of big performers at wide receiver when it counts the most, I expect the Steelers to utilize Brown, Sanders and Wallace to their seventh Super Bowl win. As young rookies, Brown and Sanders are hungry for the spotlight and to make an impact on the big stage. Likewise for Wallace, he aches to take home the MVP trophy in order to be mentioned in the same breath as Holmes, Stallworth, Swann and Ward. With a reinvigorated Ben Roethlisberger now with more options than ever at wide receiver, count on another Super Bowl for the Steelers.