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Kevin Gorman: WiFi connection between Big Ben, Antonio Brown ‘lit’ vs. Falcons

October 12, 2018

Simple as it sounds, Ben Roethlisberger making the throw to Antonio Brown and the Pittsburgh Steelers scoring a touchdown to win at Heinz Field had become a complicated matter.

The prolific passing tandem hadn’t been on the same page through the first quarter of the season, no matter how much they downplayed it. They knew there was only one way to improve the connection Brown likened to WiFi reception: Touchdowns solve everything.

It was their way of saying, “Can you hear me now? Good.”

When Roethlisberger threw a third-and-5 pass to Brown in the upper right corner of the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown in the third quarter, the Steelers quarterback celebrated by emphatically pulling off his chinstrap from the helmet with both hands.

“It wasn’t about connecting with AB and him scoring,” Roethlisberger said. “It was just more about me, being frustrated with the way I was playing and getting a confidence about making that throw. It wasn’t an easy route. It wasn’t an easy throw. It was more about that than who caught it.”

The timing, though, couldn’t have been better.

“It kind of shows,” Roethlisberger said, “that we’re still on the same page.”

More than anything, the 41-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday showed the Steelers have turned the page. Nothing received more notoriety than Roethlisberger’s struggles to complete passes to Brown through the first four games. Sure, they connected 29 times for 272 yards and three touchdowns, but Roethlisberger targeted Brown 53 times, missing on 24. Three of those resulted in interceptions.

Big Ben blamed himself for forcing passes into tight coverage and for overthrowing when Brown was open. That continued in the first half against Atlanta, even after he completed an easy pass to Brown for a 3-yard gain on the Steelers’ second possession. The next four attempts fell incomplete, whether it was short right or deep left.

The worst was yet to come. On second-and-7 at the Atlanta 7, Roethlisberger scrambled before throwing a lob intended for Brown in the end zone. Falcons safety Damonate Kazee intercepted the pass, preventing the Steelers from stretching their 13-10 lead before halftime. Roethlisberger rationalized the throw by saying Brown is “the best in the world” and “I’m going to give my guy a shot.”

That’s a proper philosophy, but his was a questionable decision that backfired.

“Obviously, you don’t like the results. You want to score points,” Roethlisberger said. “So, I’ll take that on myself and hurting the team, but when I see my guy one-on-one with the defender’s back turned ... I’m going to give him a chance.”

But Brown took it in stride, even sharing some of the blame.

“Yeah, he always trusts me,” Brown said. “I just got to find a way to come down with it.”

That’s what made their third-quarter touchdown so important. There was a trust, that Big Ben would make a precise throw and Brown would show his sure hands on a play with a high degree of difficulty.

They would connect again, first on a 15-yard pass to start a fourth-quarter drive and then a 47-yard touchdown bomb along the visiting sideline to finish it. Brown used a stutter-step to beat cornerback Robert Alford, and Roethlisberger dropped a deep throw in his breadbasket to give the Steelers a 34-17 lead with 9 minutes, 41 seconds remaining.

Roethlisberger was 9 for 17 for 95 yards passing with a touchdown and an interception in the first half, but 10 of 12 for 155 yards with two touchdowns in the second half. Brown finished with six catches on 13 targets for 101 yards and two touchdowns, his first 100-yard of the season, and tied Hines Ward’s franchise record with the 15th multitouchdown game of his career. Their connection was spotty in the first half, perfect in the second half.

Up and down? Big Ben scoffed.

“I thought it was pretty up,” Roethlisberger said of his connection with Brown. “Going deep, had over 100 yards, two touchdowns. I don’t know where the down is.”

That would be the seven missed targets, but who’s counting?

Not Brown: “I’m counting wins.”

The key is the Steelers can count on Big Ben and AB again, a connection that can be the difference between winning and losing.

“We are always on the same page, we always stay positive. We never listen to what the media say,” Brown said. “All of my touchdowns, all of my catches are from him and that’s my guy. I live and die with him.

“And the WiFi was lit.”

So were their touchdowns, a connection by which the Steelers live and die.

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