The reward for the Cincinnati Bengals’ 26-19 home win Saturday against the Las Vegas Raiders in the NFL’s wild-card round is a trip this Saturday to face the AFC’s No. 1 seed: the Tennessee Titans. Sure to be a focus of Cincinnati’s defensive game plan is slowing down Tennessee’s No. 1 wide receiver, A.J. Brown.
In only his third season in the NFL after being drafted in the second round out of Ole Miss in 2019, Brown has proved to be a favorite receiving target for quarterback Ryan Tannehill during the Titans’ run of three consecutive playoff appearances. Brown eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in both of his first two seasons, even earning a Pro Bowl nod in 2020. Brown recorded 869 receiving yards this season, tops on the Titans, despite missing four games.
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) January 13, 2022
In what may be the best opportunity of Brown’s career so far to reach a Super Bowl, he is thankful to be able to experience it with his teammates. He suffered a chest injury in Week 11 on Nov. 21 against the Houston Texans and was placed on injured reserve the following Saturday, putting the remainder of his season in jeopardy.
However, the dynamic receiver returned with a bang in Week 16 against San Francisco (the NFC’s No. 6 seed), lighting up the 49ers to the tune of 145 yards and a touchdown on 11 receptions in the 20-17 victory.
“I’m very grateful just to play football again,” Brown said after that game, according to ESPN. “I missed playing football. It was tough for me because this is what I love to do.”
Tannehill was glad Brown made it back for the stretch run as well.
“I love throwing the ball to A.J.,” Tannehill said. “He has a natural ability to get himself open. He has his size and his strength. There are some guys that they are just easy to throw to. He is one of those guys.”
Just a few weeks before his injury, Brown revealed that he’d been battling depression in recent years and had even considered taking his own life in November 2020. In an Instagram video that has since been taken down, Brown said a conversation with another person helped him to get through.
“God told him all the right things to say to me that night,” read the caption of his post.
In the video, Brown encouraged those dealing with depression to make sure to get the help they need.
“The reason I am sharing this message today to you is that I’m still here. I’m still going. I’m still smiling and I’ve got a lot of things to be grateful for,” he said. “I just want to encourage everyone to protect your mental. Talk to someone. Get things off your chest. Do things that make you happy. It’s so important.”
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Brown, who draws crosses in eye black under his eyes before games and posts often about his faith on social media, admits that he’s still growing into the person God made him to be. However, he knows he can rest securely in the hands of the Almighty.
“I’m a Christian first, before anything,” Brown told the Tennessean near the end of his rookie season. “When I step out on the field, I want to say thank you for the blessing, for everything, because I don’t have to do this. I get to do this. So I always wear a cross.”
God’s work . I’m just a vessel 🙏🏾 https://t.co/1gvWqLGxpq
— AJ Brown (@1kalwaysopen_) January 5, 2022
I pray my love ones and my brothers accomplish all their goals in 2022🤞🏽
— AJ Brown (@1kalwaysopen_) January 1, 2022
God knows I’m not perfect but he’s working on me though
— AJ Brown (@1kalwaysopen_) August 31, 2021
God I thank you! pic.twitter.com/wQdpL0yKqs
— AJ Brown (@1kalwaysopen_) August 26, 2021
Regardless of whether the Titans beat the Bengals to head to their second AFC championship game in three years or they exit the playoffs early, Brown knows that life is truly a gift from God.
– Titans safety Kevin Byard stays grounded in Christ as he leads Tennessee defense
– Titans RB Darrynton Evans gets baptized, engaged in same week: ‘God will sustain you’
– New Titans CB Caleb Farley trusting God through adversity: ‘I’d be lost without Him’
– Titans RB Derrick Henry eclipses 2,000 yards, seeks to ‘show off God’
– SS PODCAST: Tannehill, Saffold, Woodyard, Mitchell of the Tennessee Titans