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The Steelers’ Playoff Fate Could Hinge on the Severity of Antonio Brown’s Injury

The Pittsburgh receiver is the latest NFL superstar to sustain an injury

New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Early in the second quarter of Pittsburgh’s Sunday matchup with New England, Steelers receiver Antonio Brown sustained a left calf injury after colliding with the leg of Patriots defensive back Eric Rowe.

Brown was helped off the field by trainers as “MVP” chants rained from the stands. He went to the X-ray room, and Mike Tomlin told CBS’s Tracy Wolfson that he did not expect Brown to return. Later, Brown was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with a partially torn calf muscle, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Brown entered the week leading the league in receptions (99) and receiving yards (1,509). He was also tied for second in receiving touchdowns (nine). Brown’s ability to create separation and make difficult catches has allowed Pittsburgh to stay in tight games throughout the season. Though Schefter reported that Brown is “expected back” for the postseason, any injury that diminishes his ability to cut on a dime or make his patented sideline catches could threaten Brown’s status as the most uncoverable receiver in the league and change the dynamics of the Pittsburgh offense.

The Steelers’ clash with New England was the most anticipated game of Week 15, if not the season, and the winner will control their destiny in the race for the no. 1 seed in the AFC. It’s the first time the two teams have played since the AFC championship game in January. Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell left that game with a groin injury in the first quarter and did not return, and the Patriots went on to win 36-17.

Brown, who has emerged as a dark-horse candidate for MVP, is the latest superstar to suffer an injury this season. David Johnson and Odell Beckham Jr. went down early in the season, and in subsequent weeks, Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, and Carson Wentz joined the list of sidelined headliners. Brown’s injury may not be season-ending, like those of Watson and Wentz, but losing Brown for any amount of time would be another sad twist in a season dominated by injuries.