PITTSBURGH (AP) - Many teams might not want a premier offensive player on special teams. The Pittsburgh Steelers, though, know the difference wide receiver Antonio Brown can make as a punt returner.
Brown has scored four touchdowns in that role during his six-year career, including a 71-yarder to end scoring in a 45-10 rout of the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night.
While Brown was fined $11,576 by the NFL for an excessive end-zone celebration after jumping onto the goalpost and grabbing the padding, the touchdown helped him win his job back as the primary punt returner. Brown also was selected the AFC special teams player of the week.
“It’s a fun part of the game,” said Brown, who is third in the NFL with 93 receptions and second in receiving yardage with 1,310. “Anytime you can create those splash plays, provide field position for the offense, it’s something you want to be a part of.”
Jacoby Jones had been handling both punt and kickoff returns for the Steelers since being claimed off waivers from the San Diego Chargers on Nov. 5. However, he was benched after fumbling the opening kickoff and muffing a punt in the second quarter against the Colts.
Wide receiver Markus Wheaton will be the Steelers’ No. 1 kickoff returner.
The Steelers (7-5) play at the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals (10-2) on Sunday and must win to keep any hope alive of repeating as division champion. The Bengals will clinch with a win.
Jones has made plenty of splash plays during his nine-year career. He’s had nine return touchdowns in the regular season and a 108-yard kickoff return for a score for the Baltimore Ravens in their Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers three seasons ago.
Jones averaged 24.4 yards on nine punt returns in four games since the Steelers picked him up. However, he has averaged just 3.3 yards on six punt returns.
Brown was averaging 8.9 yards on punt returns this season before the addition of Jones. He has a 10.0 career average on 153 returns. Though Brown didn’t have a return in the previous four games leading up to last week, he didn’t allow himself to get rusty.
“I always practice it, so it didn’t feel like I wasn’t doing it,” Brown said. “Coach made a decision when he needed me back there, and I was ready to go when he made the call.”
If history is an indicator, Brown returning punts might give the Steelers an edge. His previous three touchdowns in that role were all against the Bengals.
“We know what we’re going to get,” Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber. “I think he’s one of the best returners out there. He’s obviously one of the most explosive players. So it’s our normal mindset, get good punts, good direction, good hang time so our guys can get down there and make plays. We just have to keep him at bay and keep him crowded up and make a tackle.”
NOTES: Every player on the roster was a full participant at practice Friday. . WR Sammie Coates (illness), CB William Gay (concussion), TE Heath Miler (ribs), TE Matt Spaeth (knee) and LB Sean Spence (hamstring) are all listed as probable for Sunday.
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