By Daniel Benjamin
The Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the oldest teams in the league, are in the playoffs for the fourth straight season. Still, there are a few veteran players who will make their postseason debut when the Steelers host the Jacksonville Jaguars at Heinz Field on Sunday.
Joe Haden Makes Postseason Debut
Cornerback Joe Haden is one of the veterans that have yet to appear in a postseason game, despite being in his eighth season in the league. In fact, this year is the first season that the two-time Pro Bowl selection has won more than seven games, as he spent his first seven years with the Cleveland Browns. While Haden was in Cleveland, the Browns posted a 29-83 record overall.
Haden has played pretty well this season for the Black and Gold, and is a major reason why the Steelers finished fifth in defense against the pass. For the year, the Steelers gave up 201.1 yards a game through the air, though that number jumped to 234.2 yards a game in the five contests that he missed due to a fibula injury. They also permitted 10 of their 20 passing touchdowns while Haden was on the shelf.
Haden, who graded out as the No. 68 cornerback this year by Pro Football Focus, picked off one pass and was credited with seven passes defensed. He also compiled 20 tackles including one sack.
Haden recently took a shot at his former team, who released him prior to the start of the regular season. According to Haden, former Browns general manager Sashi Brown told him that he was no longer a top-five corner, and was asked to take a payout from his $11.1 million base salary.
“They were going to pay Brock Osweiler $16 million and he’s not even on the team (after being cut by the Browns on Sept. 1) and they wanted to cut money from me!” he told Sports Illustrated.
Haden got a three-year deal worth $27 million with the Steelers.
Alualu and Hunter also appearing in playoffs for first time
Defensive end Tyson Alualu and wide receiver Justin Hunter are two other veterans who have not yet participated in a playoff game. Alualu, who has been a key member of the Steelers’ defensive line, spent his first seven seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars are in the playoffs for the first time since the 2007 season.
The former first-round selection signed a two-year pact with the Steelers this summer. He appeared in all 16 games, including five starts, collecting 39 tackles. The 30-year-old registered a career-high four sacks to go along with three run stuffs and one pass defensed.
Hunter, Tennessee’s second-round selection in 2013, spent three seasons with the Titans before splitting last year with Miami and Buffalo. He had four receptions, on nine targets, for 23 yards and one touchdown in seven games this season for the Steelers.
Antonio Brown Named AFC Player of Year
Wide receiver Antonio Brown picked up another big award as he was named AFC Player of the Year by the NFL 101 Awards on Wednesday. He is slated to receive the award at the organization’s annual event in Kansas City on Feb. 24.
This is the second time that the veteran wide receiver has been so honored by NFL 101. He and Le’Veon Bell were named co-AFC Offensive Player of the Year in 2014.
Despite missing the last two games, Brown finished the regular season with 101 receptions for an NFL-high 1,533 yards, a 15.2 yard per catch average, and nine touchdowns. He had eight 100-yard receiving games and recorded 10 catches or more in six games this season, which topped the league in both categories.