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Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are superheroes, and they’re everything to the Steelers

Two players meant everything to the Steelers against the Dolphins.

Wild Card Round - Miami Dolphins v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

“Balance” and “three-phase execution” are supposedly good things for football teams to have. There are people who will tell you that a 9-7 final score is “beautiful” and that great defense is full of subtle joys. Sometimes those people are right. But boy let me tell you there is no more consistent source of joy than watching Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell embarrass people.

On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense made little attempt to involve anyone else. In the first half, Brown and Bell were the only Steelers players to touch the ball multiple times apiece. With those touches, they obliterated the Dolphins’ defense.

Brown scored touchdowns of 50 and 62 yards on the Steelers’ first two drives (his first two playoff touchdowns ever). Both were perfect examples of his instincts and speed. On the first, he waited patiently for a blocker to get ahead of him before slipping down the sideline and passed poor, dear Dolphins safety Bacarri Rambo.

On the second, he turns one step on a defender into 20 steps ahead of anyone in the Dolphins’ secondary. And there’s Rambo again, being put out of position by Brown’s shiftiness.

Rambo got embarrassed, yes, but then again, he was given a near-impossible task. He was signed in October because of injuries in the secondary. He didn’t even make a roster before the season. He was, simply, a stopgap at the NFL’s ultimate stopgap position, and Brown dispensed him like Rambo was a supervillain’s faceless henchman.

Bell, playing in his first career playoff game, broke a 42-year-old Steelers record. He was patient and powerful and confident. He’s the best running back in the league, and yes, I am writing this in the midst of a virtuoso performance with Ezekiel Elliott still to play and David Johnson unable to defend himself. But after a game like that, it feels right to say.

This was Bell at his most Herculean.

That’s 10 straight runs, none of which gained fewer than 5 yards except when the Steelers were butting up against the end zone. Bell capped the drive with a score, because the Steelers rarely ever think to spare Bell. He does everything for them, even more than in just a running and passing sense. He’s a pillar. There may not be a better player in the NFL at staring down certain doom and foiling its nefarious plans.

The Steelers don’t ask Brown and Bell to be football players — they ask them to be superheroes. On a day when Ben Roethlisberger was fine — about half of his yards were Brown racking up yardage after the catch — two players turned Sunday’s Wild Card game into a laugher.

And of course, like any good heroes, their heroism shined a light on more than themselves. It highlighted an offensive line that did a stellar job of protecting Roethlisberger all season and gave Bell the luxury to be patient. It also highlighted a defense that bloomed over the course of the regular season’s final weeks, especially as a pass-rushing unit.

Those units facilitated that heroism. The fact that Brown and Bell are doing so many awe-inspiring things is a testament to how well the Steelers are playing right now at every level — eight straight wins heading to Kansas City.

This is a top-down excellent team at the moment. Its upcoming test will certainly be tougher than the one the Dolphins just gave.

But as the number of remaining teams dwindle, the pure excellence of Bell and Brown bubbles up hotter and higher. The win on Sunday was like an origin story, both players scoring the first two playoff touchdowns of their careers. The Steelers will face more adversity in the coming weeks. Whatever happens next will be by the grace of their two best players.