Pittsburgh's best weapon has been sidelined at least until the postseason.
Steelers star wideout Antonio Brown suffered a partially torn calf muscle in Pittsburgh's 27-24 loss to the Patriots, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, per a source. While Brown's regular season is over, the wideout's injury won't require surgery and the Steelers hope that he can return for the postseason, Rapoport added.
Brown suffered the injury early in the second quarter of Sunday's defeat and was initially listed by the team as questionable to return before being taken to the hospital.
Brown caught two passes for 24 yards before he suffered the injury. Brown will finish the season with 101 receptions for 1,533 yards and nine touchdowns. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said after the game that Brown's absence definitely affected Pittsburgh's game plan.
"It changes. A.B. is significant," Tomlin told reporters. "But I thought the guys did a nice job of adjusting and making plays largely. You lose somebody like A.B. and there's an adjustment."
Down the stretch of Pittsburgh's nail-biting defeat, Ben Roethlisberger went to Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Schuster in the clutch moments in which Brown had previously thrived. Brown had played a pivotal role in the final drives of Pittsburgh's previous three victories. On the final play of Pittsburgh's final drive on Sunday, Roethlisberger's game-sealing goal-line interception was intended for Eli Rogers, who was running a slant from outside the numbers -- where Brown would have lined up.
The Steelers will miss Brown, an MVP candidate coming into Week 15, in those clutch situations and in others as they attempt to secure home-field advantage throughout the postseason -- or, at the very least, a first-round bye. In the meantime, rising stars like Bryant and Smith-Schuster and part-time players like Rogers will have to step up and try to do the impossible: Replace Brown's sizable impact on Pittsburgh's offense.