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John Brown returns in style with two TD catches for Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver John Brown (12) makes a touchdown catch ahead of Atlanta Falcons cornerback C.J. Goodwin (29) during the first half of an NFL football game, Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Bruce Arians won’t have to worry about replacing John Brown any more. Brown showed he can “run long enough” to warrant a place on the Cardinals roster.

The fourth-year receiver hauled in a pair of first-half touchdown passes as the Cardinals jumped out a 17-0 lead in the only preseason game that carries any meaning against the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday at Mercedes Benz Stadium. They were Brown’s first two catches of the preseason.

“It was good to see him be successful,” Arians said. “He made a heck of a catch with the second touchdown and a great throw by Carson [Palmer] with the first one and Drew [Stanton] dropped one in there but it was really good to see Smoke out there.”

One week ago, Brown was still sidelined by a quadriceps injury that both he and Arians admitted was hampered by the sickle cell trait that slows his healing.

That didn’t stop Arians from dropping anvil-heavy hints with the media.

“He’s not available,” Arians said. “You’re only as good as when you’re available.

“If he can’t run he can’t play. Now, if he can’t run long enough (when he returns), you’ve got to replace him.”

Nobody who has seen this age-old call and response act from coaches and players believed Arians was actually looking to replace Brown, but Brown still felt he had to respond.

“I’m not just about to run out there hurting myself just because I’ve got to be out there,” he said. “I understand the situation that’s going on with the receivers and all that, but I’ll just come back when I’m ready.

“I can’t rush it. My body’s different than others. They expect me to come back fast but you know I can’t.”

Arians hasn’t been happy with any of his receivers beyond Larry Fitzgerald and Jaron Brown, but the Cardinals coach knows he needs John Brown’s speed to take the top off the defense. It was a welcome relief to see Brown do just that on the first play of the second quarter when Carson Palmer found him on a fade route in the right side of the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown that gave Arizona a 7-0 lead.

“I’m at like 80 percent,” Brown said. “The coaches did a good job of getting me in and out of the rotation and I’m just happy to be out there and have a couple of balls thrown my way. I feel way better than I did during training camp.”

Brown was dealing with a death in his family this week, but he was ready to play against the Falcons.

“It’s kind of difficult, but you know it’s stuff that I’ve dealt with plenty of times in my life so I know how to handle the situation,” he said. “It just made me feel more comfortable to be here with my teammates.”

Brown’s second touchdown catch was better than his first. Quarterback Drew Stanton recognized he had a free play because of a defensive penalty, so he threw deep to Brown in the left side of the end zone. Brown made an incredible adjustment to the ball, fought off Falcons cornerback C.J. Goodwin and made the 21-yard catch for a 17-0 lead.

That element has been missing from the Cardinals offense throughout the preseason, and it was missing most of last season. If Brown is healthy, the Cardinals offense has the chance to be much better than the 2016 version.

“Man, he’s back,” Palmer told NBC. “He looks like 2015 John Brown. He’s healthy, his mind is in a good place and our heart goes out to his family because they lost a family member this week. For him to come from that type of situation like a funeral and be here and make the plays he did tonight; really good to see.”

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