Everyone talks about Marquise "Hollywood" Brown's speed and big-play ability. But this season, Brown also showed patience and perseverance, the determination to keep battling even when things weren't going his way.
That's why Brown is a player to watch heading into the Ravens' playoff matchup against the Tennessee Titans. He has been a hot receiver of late, with six of his eight touchdowns this season coming during the past six weeks.
Brown finished the regular season with 58 catches for 769 yards and eight touchdowns, all improvements over his rookie season (46 catches, 584 yards, seven touchdowns). His second-year stats are more impressive when you consider the Ravens passed the fewest times (406) of any team in the NFL.
The postseason can bring out the best in players who love pressure, and Brown fits that mold. When the Ravens lost to Tennessee in last year's playoffs, Brown was a bright spot for Baltimore with seven catches for 126 yards. Now he's a better receiver, more experienced and battle-tested. Brown is rarely the loudest person in the room, but he looks poised to make noise in the postseason.
"It's very exciting to be in this situation and this opportunity," Brown said. "Everything we want is in front of us. We've just got to execute and play the game and have fun."
Brown and his close friend Lamar Jackson had plenty of fun during Sunday's 38-3 romp over the Cincinnati Bengals. Brown caught five passes for 41 yards and two touchdowns, and his 9-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter exemplified the strides he has made as a receiver.
Jackson couldn't find anyone open when he first dropped back to pass, so he rolled to his right to buy time. Brown was in rhythm with Jackson and kept running across the back of the end zone to give his quarterback a target. When Jackson saw a throwing window develop, he whipped a perfect pass to Brown, who caught it and tiptoed to keep his feet inbounds.
There isn't a defense designed to stop that kind of improvisation, and Head Coach John Harbaugh appreciated the nuances of Brown's catch.
"Him coming back from all the way across the backside and getting himself into Lamar's vision as Lamar was buying time on that naked-boot play, I thought was just a great play by him," Harbaugh said. "He has a knack for getting open."
However, the entire season hasn't been a breeze for Brown. He's had a few drops. He drew attention on social media with a tweet that expressed his frustration after a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The low point of Brown's season was the 30-24 overtime loss to Tennessee, when he was targeted just three times and did not have a catch. It was the only game in Brown's career in which he did not have at least one reception. Perhaps Brown did some soul searching at that point, but since being blanked in that game, he has responded with 26 catches for 338 yards and six touchdowns.
That has silenced the critics, and Brown has always had them due to his diminutive size. He was just 5-foot-7, 126 pounds in high school, and he took the hard road to becoming a college star at Oklahoma, first attending College of the Canyons, a junior college in California, and spending a year out of football.
But Brown never gave up on his dream of playing in the NFL. Whatever he went through this season didn't compare to challenges he had already overcome.
"I feel like my season has been alright, but any adversity, when you come out the back end, it's always going to be a blessing; that's how my whole life has been," Brown said last week. "So, when I'm faced with adversity, it's never getting down on myself. If I make another mistake, alright, I'm going to get another opportunity, and that's just how I look at life. When you're faced with adversity, the sun is going to come out again. You've just got to keep trying."
The Ravens have punished opponents with their NFL-best rushing attack lately, and Brown is happy to see the offense rolling. He says has adjusted to being in a system that relies so heavily on its ground game.
"I think I learned from the beginning of the season to now, you can't worry about that," Brown said. "You've just got to control what you can control and accept the opportunities that come your way. If you dwell on that you're not getting this many or that many, you miss out on the opportunities that are placed upon you. And our running game is great. So, my opportunities, whenever they come, I've just got to feed off them and help them out."
Brown said the COVID-19 outbreak that the Ravens faced in late November made them appreciate their opportunity when players began to return. Times were tough, but their season wasn't over. During the five-game winning streak to end the regular season, the Ravens have been impressive in all three phases have looked dominant at times.
Now Brown and his teammates have just one immediate goal in mind – beating the Titans on Sunday and advancing in the playoffs. When the Titans watch recent film of Brown, they will see a player on top of his game right now, who believes his team can make a playoff run.
"A lot of our teammates were away, and then, when everybody came together, we've seen that we're really a force; that if we just come together and play together, we can accomplish any goal we want." Brown said. "When you're away from the game, when you get back, it's like, 'I missed this. I've got to relish in the moment and take advantage of every opportunity.'"