ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Chris Harris Jr. gets another crack at redemption and Antonio Brown — providing the Steelers star is OK after a vicious hit in the closing minutes of Pittsburgh’s 18-16 wild-card win at Cincinnati.
The Steelers’ win, which was set up by the Bengals’ implosion in the closing minutes, set up a rematch next weekend with the Broncos in the AFC divisional round.
Harris hadn’t surrendered a touchdown in 35 games before Brown scored twice on him in the Steelers’ 34-27 comeback win over the Broncos in Pittsburgh on Dec. 20.
Harris pointed the blame at himself for that loss and Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said the next day, “I know who I’d be voting for right now for MVP.”
That would be Brown, whom Harris has been saying ever since that he’d love to see again in January.
Now he will, as long as Brown can come back from linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s hit to the head that put the Steelers in position for a game-winning field goal.
Burfict’s personal foul was followed by another 15-yard penalty, this one on cornerback Adam Jones, giving Pittsburgh a chip-shot field goal for the win.
The last time the Broncos and Steelers played, Brown caught 16 passes for 189 yards, and Harris has been promising things would be different in a rematch.
“I won’t be out of whack,” Harris said recently. “I’ll be ready to go.”
The sixth-seeded Steelers (11-6) are the only team that topped 30 points against top-seeded Denver (12-4), which led the league in defense for the first time in franchise history.
Denver’s defense hadn’t allowed a 300-yard passer, either, until Ben Roethlisberger burned them in leading a comeback from a 17-point second-quarter deficit last month. That included TD throws of 9 and 23 yards to Brown.
Roethlisberger injured his throwing shoulder in the second half in Cincinnati on Sunday and replaced by Landry Jones before returning to the field to lead Pittsburgh’s last-minute comeback.
He declined to say afterward if he’d be OK to start against Denver next weekend.
Before Brown’s scores last month, Harris hadn’t allowed a TD since Nov. 24, 2013, at New England.
“Nobody can say they played Pittsburgh and they had to play A-Brown 1-on-1 the whole game,” Harris said several days later. “Everybody else plays zone or they played double teams. So, I’m the only one who had to play him straight up like that.”
He said this week he believes his bad performance against Brown cost him first-team All-Pro status.
“I can’t wait to get another crack at those guys,” Harris said this week after being named a second-team All-Pro cornerback for the second consecutive season.
Harris said the extra week’s rest from Denver’s bye will allow his sore shoulder to be 100 percent next weekend.
Harris wasn’t alone in wanting another shot at the Steelers.
Several Denver defenders were angry the NFL didn’t suspend Pittsburgh center Cody Wallace for launching himself helmet-first into safety David Bruton Jr.’s head last month. Wallace, who was fined $23,152 for a hit on a defenseless player, said he was protecting a teammate, but acknowledged what he did was wrong.
Several Broncos suggested that what Odell Beckham Jr. got suspended for that same week paled in comparison to a 300-pound lineman with a running start and spearing an unsuspecting player who had his head down after the play was over.
The hit on Bruton came moments after he fractured his right fibula – he thought it was only a bad bruise – and he ended up playing 75 snaps on defense and special teams with the broken leg. Kubiak called that a testament to his toughness and said he would be sorely missed the rest of the way after being placed on IR.
The Broncos bounced back from their loss at Pittsburgh to beat Cincinnati and San Diego to earn the AFC’s top seed.
Instead of giving them a long weekend off, Kubiak gave his players a three-day furlough at the start of the week, then held three days of workouts that concluded Saturday.
Harris was one of five Broncos who missed all three practices. He was joined in the trainer’s room by Brock Osweiler (knee), DeMarcus Ware (knee), T.J. Ward (ankle) and Darian Stewart (hamstring), all of whom are expected to practice next week.
– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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