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Ravens know the pain Antonio Brown can inflict

Lardarius Webb, right, has long been impressed with Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown's talent.
Lardarius Webb, right, has long been impressed with Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown's talent. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

The play lasted just a few seconds, a blur of moves and fallen defenders. It was more than long enough, though, for Pittsburgh Steelers star Antonio Brown to display how he's become one of the most dangerous wide receivers in the game.

The last time he played the Ravens, Brown left behind flailing cornerback Chykie Brown on a quick out pattern. He stiff-armed free safety Will Hill to the ground. And then Antonio Brown reversed field and accelerated away from diving cornerbacks Dominique Franks and Lardarius Webb for a 54-yard touchdown catch during a 43-23 blowout win Nov. 2 at Heinz Field.

It was a snapshot of how Brown is capable of embarrassing defensive backs and it came at the Ravens' expense. The Ravens cut Chykie Brown and Franks days after that debacle. They hope to do a better job of shadowing Antonio Brown during an AFC wild-card playoff game Saturday night at Heinz Field that marks the third meeting between the AFC North rivals this season.

Brown has become a pivotal matchup after catching 18 passes for 234 yards and one touchdown in two regular-season games against the Ravens this season.

"He's up there with the best," Webb said. "A lot of guys when they go with who's the best receiver in the game, they want to look at the big guys, the big, dominant tall guys like [the Detroit Lions' ] Calvin [Johnson] and [the Dallas Cowboys'] Dez [Bryant], but with Antonio, he can do it all.

"He's not the biggest guy, so a lot of guys might not want to say, 'OK, he's the best in the game' because of his size. He does a lot of things on that field that make you say, 'Man, why not be the best receiver in the game?'"

Brown led the NFL with 129 catches and 1,698 yards for 13 touchdowns. He set Steelers single-season records and caught the second-most passes in a season in NFL history.

Brown has been a major threat against the Ravens for years, catching 45 passes against them in nine games for 556 yards and a touchdown.

Webb labeled Brown as an underrated player years ago when Brown was working in tandem with former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace. The Steelers wound up signing Brown to a new contract and let Wallace leave in free agency and sign with the Miami Dolphins.

During Brown's rookie season in 2010 in an AFC divisional-round win, he beat Webb on a 58-yard fly route that set up the game-winning touchdown.

"All I said was, 'Y'all talk about Mike Wallace, give Antonio some love,'" Webb said. "I just said give him some credit, too. I love playing the best. I'm happy to be in the playoffs. Whoever lines up in front of me can get it."

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In five seasons, Brown has 390 receptions for 5,259 yards and 28 touchdowns. Once an unheralded sixth-round draft pick from Central Michigan, he has emerged as one of the top receivers in the league.

"The fact that he does so many things so well truly is the thing that jumps out at you," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Antonio Brown is gifted. He runs all the routes. He's not just a deep threat. He's a route runner. He's a multidimensional guy that can score at any point in time."

Brown helped propel the Steelers to an AFC North title last week when he ran back a punt 71 yards for a touchdown in a 27-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. He also caught a 63-yard touchdown as the Steelers won their first division crown since 2010.

"I think the same thing that makes him dangerous as a receiver makes him dangerous as a returner," Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. "He's very aggressive. He's highly talented. He has a competitive spirit about him. He wants to make plays, and he has done it. He's a very good player. We have to be at our best."

During the teams' last meeting, the Ravens' pride was stung as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw six touchdown passes and set an NFL record with a dozen touchdown passes during a two-game span. The Ravens haven't forgotten how Brown and the Steelers embarrassed them then.

"Yeah, we think about it because [Roethlisberger] set records on us," Webb said. "It should have an impact on all the guys who were on that field to not want it to happen again and be more focused and study a little harder because he did break records on us."

Brown caught 11 passes for 144 yards in the last meeting. He has the Ravens' full attention while they also prepare for tight end Heath Miller and wide receivers Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton.

"You can't not focus on a guy that has caught 129 passes," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said with a laugh. "He's certainly a big cog in the wheel there that you have to take care of, but you can't ignore everybody else."

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